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Summer Girls

By Belinda Acosta, June 25, 2010, Screens

It's not often that I get girl crushes. When I do, I get starry-eyed, full of that breathless, "I want to be her when I grow up" excitement. This week, I had occasion for three girl crushes on three women who made me smile, laugh, or – swear to God – wave my arm above my head while throwing a grito, the Mexican version of "You go, girl!"

First up, I was introduced to the lovely and legendary French filmmaker Agnès Varda in The Beaches of Agnès, the next film in the long-running PBS series POV.

Beyond its existence, I am unfamiliar with French New Wave cinema. I had no idea who Varda was or that she was the grand dame among her cohort of French filmmakers that includes such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Varda's late husband, Jacques Demy. And I'd never heard of Varda's films, which include Vagabond, Cleo From 5 to 7, or One Sings, the Other Doesn't. But I got an eye-opening introduction to her in this wonderful autobiographical film made by the sunny-spirited Varda, who was 81 at the time of the film's completion. In addition to its invaluable first-person chronicle of the French New Wave, The Beaches of Agnès provides an absorbing account, through what might be called a female lens, of a woman making her way in a male-dominated field. Whenever I've seen films about the life and work of male filmmakers, they are usually more literal-minded, focusing on images of the men and their cameras (the bigger the better), earphones draped around their necks, pensively peering into a camera or lost in thought as another camera shoots them. The still shots of them, typically in stark black and white – you know the look.

But the edges around Varda's film are rounded. She's self-aware, charmingly conscious of being "a little old lady, pleasantly plump." But she is no wilting flower past her prime. Surrounded by young people, she amusingly breaks down visual expectations to create a highly personal but unsentimental look at a woman in all her facets as artist, mother, lover, friend, and filmmaker. Ultimately, her film is an exploration of memory and art presented poetically, using mirrors, light, animation, and her own good humor. Oh, to have lived a long, artistically fruitful life and still be lucid enough to remark on it? Yeah, I want to be her when I grow up.

The Beaches of Agnès airs Tuesday, June 29, at 9pm on PBS.

My second girl crush of the summer is on Virginia Madsen. Frankly, I never understood her appeal. I liked her all right in Sideways, and she was tolerable in A Prairie Home Companion, but I adore her in her starring role on ABC's new comedy Scoundrels. She plays Cheryl West, the matriarch of a family of thieves that she has decided to redirect to the straight and narrow. It would be easier to pass a truck through a keyhole. Her recently incarcerated husband finds the idea laughable, while her four children respond with various degrees of exasperation. But Cheryl is on a mission, driven by maternal determination. And I don't know how, but somehow Madsen makes Cheryl, stomping around with her platform shoes, her big hair, and her motherly barking and finger-wagging, funny. The series premiered last week to tepid ratings, but I'll be tuning in to cheer Cheryl on. Scoundrels airs Sundays at 8pm on ABC.

And finally, the last of my girl crushes isn't new but rather a welcome reminder. I've loved Khandi Alexander since I first saw her in NewsRadio. As far as I'm concerned, she's the only reason to watch CSI: Miami. She was great in The Corner, but she is royalty in Treme (HBO). Her fierce LaDonna Batiste-Williams makes me cheer. And her recent turn, expressing grief for her brother's death in a New Orleans-style second line parade ... oh! To be that handkerchief held aloft by the elegant sway of her powerful arm. Can I get an "amen!" up in here?

The first season of Treme ended last Sunday. Good news: The show has been picked up for a second season.

As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at

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