director Agnès Varda
Sandrine Bonnaire stars as Mona Bergeron, the titular “vagabond” of Agnès Varda’s haunting 1985 film. She’s not as mopish and repetitive as Herman Melville’s Bartleby, but she’s of a similar ilk, a modern individual disconnecting with society. She’s more of a rebel, too, but what cause she rebels against is never fully known.
I had forgotten that Mona is dead from the get-go. The first we see of her is her stiffened corpse in a rural ditch. She is reconstructed through the reminisces of those who met or simply saw her, glimpses imbued with each individual’s own world view. However, Varda shows us Mona beyond the perspectives of the pseudo-interviewees. We see her in glimpses presumably more accurate.
Maybe the Bartleby comparison is inherently flawed, because Mona is not simply withdrawn, in fact, she rouses to moments of great camaraderie, in particular with the old woman with whom she gets tipsy or the Tunisian farm worker with who betrays her friendship and really seems to hurt her.
More than anything, Mona is a woman, an individual, who has cut ties with the regular world and has taken to camping on her own in the wine region. She is wandering to find a place outside of the social norms. But she is also uncertain of what she wants and spurns a gift of land from a hippie farmer because she doesn’t really want to farm the land.
It’s ultimately tragic, and bizarre,as she stumbles into a pagan wine event dousing her in the dregs by costumed figures. She is also raped by a stranger just before her total dissolution.
Varda’s original French title Sans toit ni loi, which translates roughly as “With neither roof nor law” suggests Mona’s rebellion moreso than Vagabond. She’s a tragic figure, not entirely kind or appreciative, whose rejection of the world, a feminist rebellion, leaves her frozen to death in a ditch. She’s ultimately unknowable, but haunting and real.