Agnès Varda has been called the "Grandmother of the New Wave," a well-meaning if curious tribute for a woman who directed her first feature film at the age of 26. Born in Brussels to a French father and Greek mother, Varda studied literature and psychology at the Sorbonne, and art history at the École du Louvre. She'd originally wanted to be a museum curator, but a night-school course in photography changed her mind. Rapidly establishing herself as a top-rank still photographer, Varda became the official cameraperson for the Theatre Festival of Avignon and the Theatre National Populaire, and then pursued a career as a photojournalist.
Encouraged by filmmaker Alain Resnais, Varda made her movie directorial bow in 1955 with La Pointe Courte. She based the film on a William Faulkner short story, to which she was attracted because of its parallel plotlines (a recurring device in her later films). That same year, she accompanied another future New Wave director, Chris Marker, to China as visual advisor for Marker's Dimanche a Pekin, then concentrated on writing and directing experimental short subjects for the next five years. Varda's international reputation was secured with her 1961 feature Cleo de 5 a 7, which related in "real time" the anguish of a pop singer awaiting the results of her cancer tests. Her next film, and her first in color, was Le Bonheur (1965), a pioneering feminist manifesto wherein a misguided protagonist convinces himself that he can live copacetically with both his wife and his mistress.