In the Oscar-nominated documentary “Faces Places” (which just won an Independent Spirit Award), director Agnès Varda and street artist JR travel around the French countryside taking pictures of people and then posting the larger-than-life images where they live.
But animals get the star treatment as well. In one memorable segment, Varda and JR meet two goat farmers with a very different approach to keeping animals.
First, they encounter a man who runs an efficient farm, where the 240 goats are milked mechanically. JR is amazed that the goats have no horns. The farmer explains that the goats’ horns are burned off when they are kids, so as to reduce fighting.
By comparison, a female goat keeper in the same region lets her goats keep their horns. “To my my mind, if a goat has horns, she keeps them. I’m not going to remove them. I can find no logical explanation. Unless you see them as a product,” she tells the filmmakers. “If you want to do this in a way that respects the animals, you have to leave them intact. Sure they fight. Humans fight too.”
JR says, “We went back the next day. I like this principled woman.”
We then see a tour of her modest goat farm and cheese-making methods. She only has 60 goats and the goats are milked by hand, not by machine. She says, “The noise of the machines and the hassle of cleaning them made it not worth it. We came to realize that milking is such a peaceful moment.”
No surprise, she also feeds all the stray cats in the neighborhood. (Cats are featured in nearly all of Varda’s films. The logo for her production company Ciné-Tamaris features a cat.)
JR and Varda take a picture of a goat and paste it on a nearby building. “Agnès likes cats and goats,” says JR. “So I figured she’d like it if I put up a big goat… with horns.”
When a farmhand asks her why they put up the photo, Varda explains, “For fun and for other reasons. JR and I are investigating. Goat farmers want herdless horns, so they’re removing them.”
The farmhand hadn’t heard about this practice, but says he’ll now tell everyone. “Goats were born to have horns,” he says. He suggests keeping the horns, but putting balls on the tips, like with bulls. He tells Varda, “Your cause is great madam,” he says. “Keep up the fight.”