Gleaners & I The (France; 82min.)

directed by: Agnes Varda
Les glaneurs et la glanuese
Bruce says: "Many painters are continually asked about their art by their admirers and even casual passers-by. Some questions are profound and others are absolutely ridiculous to the point of being insulting. 'What does that represent?' 'Why do you use so much blue?' 'Is your work symbolic?' 'What are you painting?' 'Who is your muse?' 'Of your works, which is your favorite?' 'How long did it take to create that?'

"In order to inch closer to the creative spirit, to the genius, many filmgoers want directors to talk about their art. Film festivals are a popular forum for such exchanges. While some of the answers in those Q & A exchanges can be fascinating, others fall somewhere in the 'less than interesting' department. Serendipity often has an enormous role in creativity but is sometimes hard to accept. I think sometimes the director disappoints a fan by saying, 'Oh, that happened by mistake.' 'That came about through a strange sequence of events.' Or 'I don’t know, it just happened.'

"In THE GLEANERS & I, Agnès Varda doesn’t wait for the questions, she talks freely about her work, her inspiration and her feelings about herself particularly when it comes to aging. Varda to some extent demystifies the creative experience in ways that many viewers would prefer not to witness. She makes it all seem quite simple, serendipitous, and even childlike. Her dance of the camera lens and close ups of her fingers framing trucks on the autoroute are examples of her whimsy, yet both tie into her subject at hand: discovery.

"Inspired by Millet’s famous painting, The Gleaners, and by Breton’s portrait of a single gleaner, Varda examines the art of gleaning from the 16th century to the present. Gleaning first was the act of picking the fields of wheat chaff after the harvest was over. Gleaning is established in French law which allows people to trespass and gather what otherwise would have been wasted. Gleaning, however, is not restricted to wheat.

"THE GLEANERS & I examines many forms of gleaning in modern times. People who rely on gleaning for sustenance scour potato fields, vineyards, wheat fields and - in the case of the urban gleaners - dumpsters and refuse remaining after the marchés shut down. Gleaning has its place in the art world, too. Artists who work with objets trouvés are interviewed. One of them, Bodan Litnanski, insists that everything discarded has potential for becoming art.

"Some gleaners do so for the sake of gleaning, just because they can. One man has been eating off food found on the streets for ten years. He has a job plus a pension so he certainly does not glean out of necessity. Another man with a master’s degree lives in a shelter and gleans; he offers his teaching services free of charge in a program that teaches French to immigrants. Varda considers him her best discovery while making the film.

"As much as it examines the practice itself, THE GLEANERS & I ponders the cultural contradiction in a modern world that allows yet abhors the gleaning. Gleaning as seen by Varda is about survival, discovery, honoring and savoring the past, recycling and self-examination. The film is a remarkable autobiographical and sociological essay.

"On a related note, Mongo: Adventures in Trash, a book written by Ted Botha about gleaners in New York, was published in the summer of 2004. Botha references Varda and THE GLEANERS & I in his book. The chapters of Mongo are character studies. Botha looks at modern gleaning in ways similar to Varda. He categorizes the gleaners as survivalists, treasure hunters, dealers, and archeologists, to name just a few. For anyone who loved this film I highly recommend Mongo. It is placed under 'Collectables' in bookstores. I would prefer to see it sitting next to Studs Terkel where I personally think it belongs. 5 cats

Diane says: "Varda starts by talking to your standard gleaner--those who go out into the fields after the harvest--but then moves on to urban scavengers (dumpster divers), which surprised me. I had never equated them. The French title, "Les glaneurs et la glaneuse," sets Varda up as a gleaner also. Is she as a filmmaker gleaning these people who have been left behind?

Varda, in her 70s, includes her own meditations on aging and the passage of time that add a sweetness to the film, but I don't know how that relates to the subject at hand. She includes footage and narration that remind the viewer that s/he is experiencing a construction: choices, mistakes, process are referred to.

A good combo of aesthetics (she loves to film potatoes), social commentary, personal reflection.
Emily says: "Ienjoyed watching this documentary and recommend it to all of those who have a chance to see it."
Laura says: "Varda's film is an unusual combination of a diary reflecting on her own aging, a road trip, and the documentation of the economic, societal, cultural and artistic reasons that people have for gathering the refuse of others. While sometimes Varda's digressions indulgently stray too far from her main theme, for the most part she's found a rhythm that can tie rural, post-harvest gleaning to a court case involving homeless youngsters who vandalized a market. When she veers from a family who've discovered an abandoned vineyard to spend a minute on her own camcorder's dangling lens cap, frustration felt by the viewer is quickly assuaged by her good natured spirit. "

For Laura's complete review: ""

Michael says: "I loved this film, Agnes Godard's study of 'gleaning,' originally meant as the following of a harvest to collect the discarded wheat or rice. Godard likens gleaning to her own filmwork, as she chats with and films various types of today's gleaners, homeless folk salvaging the waste in garbage, a young chef economically finding herbs on hillsides rather than buying them, and authorized gleaning of vineyards after a grape harvest.

Besides the lovely images that Godard captures, I loved how this film was truly about the woman herself, and her horror at aging, the way she herself gleans, and her dry humor. Agnes Godard is QUITE a character... just wait until you see her capture a truck, or watch her camera lens cap dance.

Don't miss this extraordinary documentary "

Nathaniel says: "Agnes Varda, cinematographer and the godmother of the French New Wave, created a mini cineaste stir earlier this year when THE GLEANERS AND I opened. This intimate look at the culture of gleaning (i.e. scavenging for food) among the have-nots in France expands meditatively as it hums merrily along. For an ostensibly dark subject, Varda manages to keep the tone light and even a little whimsical. This personal essay cum documentary ends up encompassing thoughts and ideas related to socio-economic status, unemployment, civilization's careless waste, art, and filmmaking.

"Varda draws a neat parallel between the collective urge and her own career in filmmaking. She cleverly illustrates this in a humorous segment where she captures trucks visually in her own hand from her passenger seat in a movie car. It's a child's game played with ancient hands. Varda returns again and again to this image of her own withered hand and expresses her disbelief that the end draws near.

"THE GLEANERS AND I is an impressive personal study. It's a little sad, a little funny, intimate and universal. Not everybody scavenges for food, or scans dumpsters for discarded treasures, but artists of all types collect in some way. We all hope to leave something behind to remind people that we existed."
Robin says: "Agnes Varda captures some fascinating moments during the course of THE GLEANERS & I, but the effort is uneven. Some of the more interesting stories and styles are given short shrift, while other, less interesting, subjects are given far too much air time. Varda also intrudes herself in the film (the "& I" of the title) in an effort to show that she, with her video camera, is simply another gleaner let loose on the world. When the documentarian chooses to be a subject and not just an observer, attention is taken from the real subject. She indulges, in one far too long a scene, in taping a dangling lens cap from a camera left running. The dance of the cap reps Varda's own gleaning of the images she captures, accidentally or not. Mostly, her intruding is an annoyance in what is otherwise an interesting documentary."

For Robin's complete review: ""