Two years ago, 89-year-old French filmmaker Agnes Varda was due to appear at a luncheon in Los Angeles to celebrate her recent Oscar nomination.
When she opted not to take the trip, Varda — whose 2017 movie “Faces Places” was nominated for Best Documentary Feature — decided to dispatch life-size cardboard cutouts of herself.
Thus a sensation was born: Stars such as Greta Gerwig and Meryl Streep had their photos taken in poses with the likeness of Varda. The filmmaker, who was given an honorary Academy Award during the same Oscar season, died last year at the age of 90.
The Wexner Center for the Arts will offer a look at the daring filmmaker behind the cutout with a monthlong survey of Varda’s films, including her feature film debut, “Cleo from 5 to 7” (1962), as well as several of her documentaries.
“She did gain this recognition with younger audiences, and internet culture adopted her as this kind of wacky grandmother of cinephilia,” said Chris Stults, associate curator of film/video at the Wexner Center.
But, he said, there’s more to Varda than her “whimsical” public image.
“It’s amazing to go back and look at the films and just realize how vital her work was,” Stults said.
The series is a much-reduced version of a touring retrospective presented by Janus Films; because the Wexner Center has shown many Varda films in recent years, leaders at the arts center decided to show a highlights package of sorts.
“We pared away those films that we’d shown within the past five years or so and tried to pick as diverse a range from the other titles — as many as we could fit,” Stults said.
The series will open Friday with the 1962 drama “Cleo from 5 to 7.” Corrine Marchand stars as Cleo, a young woman whose life is documented during a single afternoon when she fears a medical test may reveal a cancer diagnosis.
Also on the double-bill is Varda’s 1958 short film “Diary of a Pregnant Woman.”
Varda, who was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1928, is frequently lumped together with other filmmakers in the French New Wave, such as Jean-Luc Godard or Francois Truffaut.
“She was known as the sole woman in the French New Wave,” Stults said. “Varda was making films before the other folks, and completely independent, and was kind of reluctantly accepted.”
According to film scholar Annette Insdorf, Varda has more in common with French director Louis Malle than some other New Wave figures.
“Like Louis Malle, she was a fellow traveler of the French New Wave who displayed a vibrant cinematic curiosity,” Insdorf, a professor at Columbia University in New York, said in an email.
“They shared a sympathetic observation borne of making documentaries as well as fiction,” Insdorf said. “Both were marked by childhood during World War II, seeing Jewish children rounded up by French police.”
Several of Varda’s documentaries will be shown, including “The Gleaners and I” (2000) and its 2002 sequel on Saturday. The movies feature Varda interacting with French citizens who root around for, or “glean,” food that remains following harvest time.
“There is a gentle self-consciousness in her work, whether fiction or documentary,” Insdorf said. “Varda makes us aware that we are watching constructed images that can reveal truths about our lives.”
The series will continue with the drama “Vagabond” (1985) on March 12 and a pair of films on March 26: “Documenteur” (1981), a Los Angeles-set fictionalized account of Varda’s estrangement from her husband, director Jacques Demy; and “Mur murs” (1981), a nonfiction film in which the director offers views of murals in the city.
Said Stults of the latter movie: “It becomes just this glimpse of LA from an outsider, which is always interesting — a portrait of LA that nobody else would’ve made.”