The Gleaners and I (2000)

Dir. Agnes Varda

I think Kevin has the best chance of liking this, but Penny, Chris, Grace and Mitchell also have a good chance of appreciating this. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to the other idiots. I had no idea what this movie was about, and I ended up liking it. A deserving pick for the 1001 book.

The movie is a video essay on gleaning, and the concept of gleaning within the 21sth Century. What is gleaning? I believe it’s a concept that originated from the Bible, and it was basically God’s command for field workers to leave the small bits of harvest that weren’t gathered initially for the poor. In other words, after the initial harvest, the less fortunate were supposed to be able to pick the food. The film is a kind of documentary, but I intentionally avoided that description because, unlike many documentaries, Varda the filmmaker inserts herself–her physical self as well as her ruminations, and personal, poetic style of filmmaking. The style reminds me of a cinematic version of Annie Dillard.

Like a good poem, this is a type of film that probably gets better after repeated viewings, but here are some things that struck me:

The examination of this old principle sharply contrasts with the ethos and values of modern society and in so doing serves as a critique of society. We see this vividly by the wasteful practices of the industrial consumer society, which has no room to give perfectly edible food to those who desperately need it.
Varda also offers criticism by showing the way individuals take the leftovers of society and transform it into art. I love the way Varda shows great paintings of gleaners working in the field as a set up for artists who use “trash” to make something beautiful. When Varda finds–and “gleans”–the amateur painting, combining two paintings she featured early in the film, it’s one of those magical moments in filmmaking that directors only dream of.
I wish I had more time to reflect on the last person featured in the film, the guy with a graduate degree, but lives of leftover produce from a Paris market, lives in a shelter and teaches immigrants French for free. His lifestyle and values are antithetical to modern society and his teaching and his students seem to be another interesting modern version of gleaning–repudiating many of the consumer values.
There’s a lot of cool images–like the heart shaped potatoes among others. Wish I could remember more and provide analysis

  1. No Comments

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.