Agnès Varda’s spirit is felt all through JR’s documentary “Paper & Glue.” A quote from her opens and closes the movie, and there’s an occasional shot of the poster for “Faces Places,” her great 2017 collaboration with JR. Varda’s movies let the viewer make up their minds about her characters by letting them navigate the universes they inhabited. Analogous alchemy is at work right here; JR is known for his monumental installations that include footage of on a regular basis individual, pictures he pastes virtually anyplace utilizing the titular objects. Because the exhibitions are ready, we’re taken on a tour of the topics’ environments, from a favela in Brazil to a super-maximum safety jail in California. At one level, JR says that “artwork belongs to the individuals.” Then, by way of the illustration of the individuals who make up his artwork, he reveals simply how true that assertion is.
In a number of vignettes, JR is partnered together with his longtime buddy, Ladj Ly. The duo is kindred spirits as a consequence of their love of pictures and their upbringing within the initiatives of France. JR got here to public housing as an immigrant, feeling misplaced till he received his palms on a digicam. Ly, the main focus of one in every of JR’s most well-known compositions, grew up in Montfermeil’s Les Bosquets “B5,” the construction that serves because of the climactic set up in “Paper & Glue.” “It’s the ghetto of all ghettos,” Ly says, and over time, it was being dismantled to make a method for newer housing. (Ly’s 2019 movie about Montfermeil, “Les misérables,” was nominated for a Finest Worldwide Characteristic Oscar.) “B5” is the final remaining remnant, and as a farewell, the 2 embark on one last testimony to the individuals who as soon as lived there. When the construction is destroyed, this footage will crumble together with the façade, a symbolic reference to the previous.
Earlier than we get to that, JR narrates his personal historical past, specializing in a number of initiatives to indicate the strategies to his insanity. He mentions his have to doc everything, which supplies us entry to some beautiful movies and pictures. Beginning as a graffiti artist (there is startling footage of him navigating roofs and different harmful areas that taggers crave), JR graduated towards pasting gigantic footage of nameless individuals in uncommon areas. The photographs are actually “in your face,” which includes the topics making faces or wanting on the beholder with a variety of feelings. This engagement was usually a protest, forcing the viewer to have interaction with an individual for whom they might have judgmental notions. That well-known image of Ly options him holding his digicam like a gun, daring people to have interaction with somebody from a spot non-resident didn’t dare to go to.
I like films about the course, and this movie is chock filled with scenes exhibiting how issues get accomplished. One of many first works we see is a border wall set up that spans each of the U.S. and the Mexican sides. JR talks to some border patrol guards who repeatedly reply to any point out of the wall with “what wall?” In Tecate, Mexico, he finds a household prepared to let him take footage of their child son, Kikito, in a playpen. This turns into the principal characteristic of a really massive setup that, shockingly, the border patrol permits to be constructed. Kikito looms massive as he appears over the border fence. Beneath the mural, JR and his group construct a desk on the Mexican aspect so that folks can meet and mingle. He devises an intelligent method for people on the U.S. aspect to affix in, turning his artwork into a global social occasion.
JR tells this story to an inmate in the jail in Tehachapi, California who asks what he plans to perform with the mission he pitches to them. Right here, he explains his mission assertion of getting the marginalized, downtrodden, and forgotten to inform their tales. The jail yard, the place somebody was stabbed two days prior, shall be lined with footage of this group. They’ll even be accountable for pasting the pictures. “I’m not a politician,” JR tells the multi-race group of inmates. “I’m not right here to move judgment.” Nevertheless, the digicam provocatively elicits a response when it isolates the “SKINHEAD” tattoo on the again of an inmate’s head. We additionally meet a person named Kevin, whose swastika face tattoo exists in jarring distinction together with his soft-spoken demeanor and admissions of regret. Nonetheless, multiple individuals note how uncommon it’s for prisoners of all races to come back collectively peacefully for this exercise.
To be sincere, the cynic in me thought “Paper & Glue” was going to be a bit of fluff that might make me roll my eyes on the notion of the sort of artwork having an impact on society at massive. However, the movie seems to be rather a lot sharper, extra pointed, and extra poignant than its material might indicate. It doesn’t shrink back from the violent or disagreeable realities that accompany the joyous moments. The section on the Morro da Providência favela in Brazil is the prime instance right here, with its story of a revered resident named Rosiete, who brokers take care of the neighborhood gangs, and scenes of the children who turn into beginner photographers contributing to the piece. JR has these images pasted contained in the favela but in addition brings them outdoors, as soon as once more dragging individuals into the story of a spot they’d keep away from. Rosiete’s response to seeing her personal face pasted on a wall is sort of transferring.
“Paper & Glue” additionally brings us into École Kourtrajmé, the college JR began for college kids curious about artwork, in addition to briefly mentioning the opposite methods he contributed to the locations he visited. On the movie’s finish, there’s an “American Graffiti”-style montage that tells us what occurred to the individuals we met on this journey. This happens simply after probably the most spectacular destruction of one in every of JR’s installations, a scene that performs like a farewell to a previous these monumental, pasted items of paper ensured wouldn’t be forgotten.