Agnès Varda and Madonna: what secret link united the director and the pop star?

While Arte dedicates a special evening in tribute to Agnès Varda, we look back at a little-known story uniting the filmmaker and the singer Madonna…

One sings, the other doesn’t. On one side, Madonna; on the other, Varda, Agnès by her first name. Both are in the news, one with her world tour, which will pass through Paris next week; the second has the honors of multiple tributes (exhibition at the Cinémathèque, edition of a new DVD box set, publication of books, and this evening, a tribute on Arte with a documentary Viva Varda and the broadcast of Without roof, ni law).

The opportunity to highlight a little-known story, in this case a secret link, or almost, which united Madonna and Agnès Varda. Visitors to the Viva Varda exhibition will be able to discover it via an archive, dating back exactly 30 years ago. We invite you to (re)discover below.

If this television sequence dates from 1993, the meeting between Madonna and Agnès Varda is much earlier. It was in the 1980s that the queen of pop discovered Varda’s second feature film, Cléo de 5 à 7.

This sublime black and white masterpiece produced in 1962 retraces the wanderings in the streets of Paris of a young singer who awaits the results of her blood test. She fears the terrible verdict, the news of cancer.

Madonna finds in this story a particular resonance with her own experience. A deep trauma linked to the death of his mother from breast cancer. The future international star was only 5 years old then.

Identifying easily with the heroine played by Corinne Marchand, Madonna, who has already filmed Desperately Seeking Susan and Dick Tracy, acquired the rights to Cléo from 5 to 7 with the firm intention of making a remake. She worked on the script and called on Agnès Varda to direct this new version.

A new version whose action would have taken place in New York, a city which saw the emergence of the Madonna’s talent. Another change compared to the original: the ultimate evil would no longer have been represented by cancer. It is AIDS, which appeared in the 1980s, which would have served as a new dramatic spring.

This story element became obvious to La Ciccone, herself engaged in the fight against this terrible scourge responsible for the death of many friends and colleagues.

Production begins, but very quickly the Varda method – little planning before filming and instinctive framing choices – proves hardly compatible with the constraints of Hollywood studios. The American remake will therefore never see the light of day.

During her last interview in September 2018 for The Guardian, the director confided that she would have liked the interpreter of Cléo to be a young woman of color. She even imagined the diva Whitney Houston in the title role.

At the time of Agnès Varda’s death, Madonna paid her a final tribute: “Farewell to one of my favorite directors — Agnès Varda, a curious, creative, childish spirit until the last moment. We will miss you !!

Failing to be able to see this remake, the original Cleo from 5 to 7 is currently visible in free streaming on the Arte website, or on Netflix and several VOD platforms. The Viva Varda exhibition at the Cinémathèque runs until January 28, 2024.

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