The Gleaners & I (2000)

Written & Directed by Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda reminded me a lot of Werner Herzog. They both make films, documentary or otherwise, but it is the style of their documentaries that seems so similar to me. They are curious about everything, but especially about people. For a movie about gleaners, this sure is about everything except gleaners. Who is a gleaner? Varda asks this question, but not how I mean. I mean really, who is a gleaner? A gleaner is someone who enters the fields after a harvest to pick up, or glean, the leftover goods that were left behind either accidentally or on purpose by the farmers. What a concept. I mean now I am curious about these people now too. Why do they do it? How do they do it? Is it legal? etc.etc.

Varda takes it further than this however. She is curious about what these people do too, not just the gleaning. What we quickly learn is that the majority of these people are poor people who glean out of necessity. It is a great way to get good, free food and help them survive. But Varda goes further to get their story, to find out why they are poor. Then there are the people who do it because they don’t want the food to go to waste. They don’t have to do it for survival, but they do it because they hate to see the food wasted like that. Then there are those that do it for fun. They get some kind of enjoyment out of it. But what is remarkable is that every one of these people has a story and Agnes Varda intends to learn what that story is. It is a wonderful curiosity that I share. I love to hear people’s stories.

This is a short documentary and it is filled with interesting asides that seem to have nothing to do with the main purpose of the film, like the armless clock or Agnes capturing the trucks on the highway, but they are wonderful little reflections. I don’t know how spectacular this was. For a film about gleaners, rural and urban, it turns out to be much more interesting and engaging than I ever expected. So for something I had mixed expectations for, Agnes Varda but about gleaners, I think it was a nice documentary. It accomplishes what I think she was going for, but for me, it didn’t capture my full appreciation. It is a good jumping off point, showing the great curiosity that I think is necessary for good filmmakers, but for me, I am looking forward to her other work and putting this one behind me.

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