In A Complicated Passion (Norton, Aug.), film critic Carrie Rickey details the life of Cleo from 5 to 7 director Agnès Varda.

Yours is the first major biography of Varda, who died in 2019 at age 90. Why do you think it took so long for someone to tell her story?

Varda was very careful about how she recounted her life, and I think her family, who helped me a lot in the beginning of my research process, were also cautious about telling it. She was available but not always eager to talk about the things people wanted to talk about with her.

You describe Varda’s love of filmmaking as a “complicated passion.” Why “complicated?”

There were many times in her career when she wanted to give up. In the 1960s, when she and her husband, director Jacques Demy, were in Los Angeles, she blew her chance to make a big studio movie because she didn’t like being pinched on the cheek and treated like a girl instead of the mature filmmaker she was. I think things were a little harder for her because she wasn’t Truffaut, and she wasn’t Godard, both of whose movies made a lot of money. I think she wanted to make the movies she wanted to make and receive acclaim for them, but that wasn’t always forthcoming. She ended up making the movies she wanted to, and she brought the audience to her in the end.

How did Varda change women’s representation in the film industry?

After WWII, the door for women in cinema was open for three minutes and she was able to walk through that door. For reasons of money and female solidarity, she hired a lot of women to work with her, and many women who made movies in France started out working with her. She showed them how to make movies on the fly, and the women she collaborated with in Los Angeles got into the industry, too. Varda was very funny and magnetic, and by the time she died she was like a grandma figure in France and for women in film all over the world in the same way that Frida Kahlo became a secular saint for young painters.

What’s your favorite Varda film?

I think Le Bonheur, or The Happiness, is her most beautiful and her most terrifying movie. The film is about a husband who has an affair with a woman who looks a lot like his wife and how all women are fungible to men. Even today it’s quite a shock, fantastic yet difficult for a lot of people to watch. That’s my favorite this week, this day.