The Gleaners and I (2001)
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Both a diary and a kind of extended essay on poverty, thrift and the curious place of scavenging in French history and culture--a documentary capturing the world of French gleaners who collect and make use of what others have discarded.
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Critic Reviews for The Gleaners and I
[A] lyrically ramshackle essay about people, including Varda herself, who don't fit into society's cubbyholes.
Varda's subject matter is surprisingly rich, but it's her own energetic, curious nature that gives the film its snap.
Audience Reviews for The Gleaners and I
a lovely documentary/road movie on the theme of recycling society's castoffs. director varda travels france examining the lifestyle, from the ancient custom of gleaning the fields after harvest to modern 'freegans' and artists using salvaged junk. fascinating characters, not least the filmmaker herself, who sees her art as gleaning images from everyday life
This lovely, whimsical documentary is director Agnes Varda's tribute to the quaint practice of "gleaning" -- sifting through others' harvested farmland for leftover fruits and vegetables. This gentle foraging is not stigmatized like digging through trash (in fact, it's often presented as a commendable effort to cut ecological waste) and almost all of the interviewed gleaners are surprisingly clean and articulate. Many farmers even accept the gleaners, and merely set up some light rules for their trespassing.
"The Gleaners and I" is somewhat unfocused, especially considering it's only 82 minutes, and has quirky personal insertions that could be labeled self-indulgent. Varda not only narrates but intermittently appears onscreen, observing her body's aging, phantom-pinching trucks that she passes on the highway (shades of the Kids in the Hall's "I'm crushing your head" bit) and showing trivial lens-cap footage shot by accident. But such tangents are central to the film's homespun charm. She also becomes seduced by the gleaning concept herself, and gradually accumulates some chairs, figs, heart-shaped potatoes and a broken clock. "A clock without hands is my kind of thing," she smiles. "You don't see time passing."
Eventually, she introduces city settings and broadens her scope. We see people who search for appliances, turn trash into artwork and live off found food. One of them has a Masters degree. Some legal aspects are explored, and there's also discussion of gleaning as depicted in paintings. Varda seems to just spontaneously follow the story wherever it leads her. It's a warm introduction to a peculiar, less-known corner of French culture.
Agnes Varda brings forward a very interesting documentary on the tradition of gleaning or picking up discarded food that wasn't brought by farmers to food distributors. It is a practice that is practical in terms of supplementing the food sources for the working poor and a good lesson in how to avoid waste.
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