Subject Headings: homelessness, French society, sexuality, gender, poverty, death.
The story of Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire), a homeless drifter, Vagabond explores issues of epistemology and gender. Using a pseudo-talking heads format, where the camera often acts as the interlocutor, characters giver their accounts of Mona’s last weeks on Earth.
The movie’s narrative structure mildly resembles that of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941, USA) in that it begins with the death of the central character. As Mona’s narrative progresses, the audience comes to see all of the contradictions in Mona’s character. She longs to be free, yet develops a destructively dependent relationship with almost everyone she encounters.
One of the most stunning facets of the movie is the ways in which Varda introduces the ways in which Mona’s gender complicates her status as societal outsider. In one scene Mona comes across a mechanic whom she implores for work. Mona and the mechanic’s young assistant exchange flirtatious glances. The film then cuts to a scene in which the mechanics assistant looks out the window. In what is assumed to be a subjective camera of the assistant’s point of view, the audience sees the mechanic get out of Mona’s tent with his pants down. In the next scene the mechanic, who sits at his desk, bemoans Mona’s unwillingness to let him sleep with her. It is assumed that because Mona is homeless and a woman that her sexuality is the free reign of any man with money.
Mona’s story ends where it began: with her lying in a ditch, hopeless, starving and waiting to die.
Flitterman-Lewis, S. To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Ramanathan, Geetha. Feminist Auteurs. London: Wallflower Press, 2006.