The Gleaners and I

Before I start this review, I want to make an appeal to film distribution companies. Agnes Varda is just as important as Truffaut or Godard and she deserves to have her works more widely available. There are several titles in her filmography that need to be released in order to fully understand her as a filmmaker. I feel bad that this retrospective of her films is so incredibly incomplete. One Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinema, Daguerreotypes, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, The World of Jacques Demy, and Jacquot de Nantes only a couple of films that I feel are well worth a release and could potentially turn a profit at least with art film lovers. Please… Please… Please love Agnes Varda as much as I love her.

I decided to put this appeal at the start of this film review because I feel guilty that I have skipped over a decade in her filmography. A decade where she was more prolific than other decades and yet none of those films are available at all or they are available in extremely expensive and bad copies of VHS or DVDs.  I think this is wrong. Sorry for the whining. Now on with the review of this delightful film.

To glean is to pick up what is left from the normal harvest. This is a common practice that dates back centuries but comes with stigmas that can be worrying. If you glean or scavenge (what it is now normally called) than you are either a hippie or homeless. But as Agnes points out that is far from the truth. Many people are gleaners, they just don’t know it. Whether you find an artwork in a warehouse, eat leftovers, or take things out of storage you are still gleaning.

Through out the film she meets several people who refuse to be pitied. There is a man who hasn’t paid for anything for ten years, a woman whose family has gleaned for generations and does it more out of tradition than necessity, an artist that uses objects that he has gleaned in his art pieces, and families that need to glean in order to supplement their pittance of a salary. Each person is placed in a tradition and is given legitimacy for their way of life. She treats everyone with dignity and wants nothing more than to hear their story. She also highlights the need to throw things away and our consumer culture. These people are working against this prevailing philosophy and they make the world a better place for the rest of us. But because these people are working against the prevailing philosophy, they bump up against laws, societal norms, and the owners of the land they are gleaning from. Varda has landowners, lawyers, and the people who glean explain the laws and regulations. Each person interprets each law and regulation in a different law. In a particularly humorous sequence, she interviews people who pick up mussels around major mussel farms. They have to be within 8 or 15 or 10 feet away from the farm area, they can only pick up 2, 12, 18, or 20 pounds legally. The numbers and the legality changes as each person explains it.

Each person she interviews is interesting and represent a certain aspect of gleaning, but what is most interesting is how she inserts her life into the picture. She puts her profession of filmmaker into the world of gleaning. She gleans images from other people’s lives and fits them together to make a story. She illustrates this by setting a bushel of grain over her shoulder and standing like a famous gleaning painting. This philosophy of filmmaking has been explored before, but I haven’t seen it represented so overtly before. She also lifts the veil of her filmmaking process to reveal her long rides and her giddiness with emerging digital technology. She loves being able to carry a lightweight camera with her wherever she goes and she turns it on to explore her liver spots on her hands and to play a silly game where she catches passing semis with her hand and releases them. All of these images filled me with a sense of wonder and a need to one day meet this wonderful filmmaker.

This film is beautiful. It represents Agnes Varda’s philosophies more than any other film that I have seen so far. She wants nothing more than to explore motivations behind unique people’s actions. I could write about this film for ever but it would be nothing more than I liked this person or this image or this phenomenon so I will stop it here. I hope you seek this film out and that you discover the whimsy and the love of art that Varda has. She is inspiring.


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