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An intimate, picaresque inquiry into French life as lived by the country's poor and its provident, as well as by the film's own director, Agnes Varda. The aesthetic, political and moral point of departure for Varda are gleaners, those individuals who pick at already-reaped fields for the odd potato, the leftover turnip. Written by
The French film Les glaneurs et la glaneuse was shown in the U.S. as The Gleaners & I (2000). It was written and directed by Agnès Varda,
Varda is a fascinating figure in the history of French filmmaking. Although she was making movies in France in the 60's, she wasn't actually a member of the French New Wave. Instead, Varda was part of a loosely joined group of directors that also included Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. (Although theoreticians place them into a group, Resnais said, "It is true that we are always ranked together, but what can you say we share apart from cats?") In any event Varda has a secure place in the history of French filmaking.
The Gleaners is a movie about people who survive by searching for food or objects that others don't want, or, at least, don't want to work to find. In the country, gleaners find fruits and vegetables that remain after the harvest has been completed. In the cities they scavenge for food that has been thrown out as garbage, or that has been left behind when the vegetable markets close. They also claim discarded furniture and appliances for repair and resale.
Whether by choice or by necessity, gleaners do their work at the fringes of the society. What they do isn't illegal, but it's not exactly mainstream either. However, this doesn't mean that the gleaners don't have their own fascinating personalities and informal codes of conduct.
Varda interviews gleaners in both rural and urban areas. What she learns--as do we--is that they are very skilled at--and often proud of--what they do. As Varda shows us, it takes skill and knowledge to survive as a gleaner. You have to know where to look and when to look to get enough to eat, or to sell. The gleaners are interesting individuals, and they're happy to talk about what they do. Varda has taken what they told her, and fashioned it into a fascinating movie.
The irony of this is clear when you look at the French title of the movie. The film is about gleaners, but it's also about one gleaner--Agnès Varda. Varda uses the bits and pieces offered to her by the gleaners, and fashions them into a movie. So, in that sense, she herself is the ultimate gleaner.
We saw the film on the large screen at Rochester's Dryden Theatre, as part of the excellent Rochester Labor Film Festival. However, it should also work on DVD.
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