GLEANERS AND I, THE
Gleaners are people who live off fruit left behind after a harvest, the discarded food and dumped goods of others. Protected by a law passed by French King Henry IV in 1554, several gleaners are met by filmmaker Agnes Varda who travels across France documenting their means of survival. She finds them in every possible situation, from the fields to the backstreets to the markets of towns. Varda reflects on her own life and work as she 'gleans' the raw material for this documentary.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
The Gleaners is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. It is magical, playful, inspiring and touching in a way that drama can only hope to be. It is arguably the crowning achievment in the career of Agnes Varda who, aged 72, shows all aspiring documentary-makers what the possibilities of factual cinema are. Armed with a digital camera that was the stuff of science-fiction when she began making films in 1954, Varda becomes a cinematic gleaner as she scavenges for the stories of scavengers. The first stop is a potato field where the excess produce of farmers has been dumped and a community of modern nomads are picking through the crop. One stumble leads to another and we meet a man who creates sculpture out of bits and pieces, another who has not purchased food for ten years and a group of young, unemployed gleaners who raid the dumpster behind a supermarket. In Varda's amazingly candid commentary she distinguishes different kinds of gleaners; there are the more honourable and impressive ones who glean because they cannot belong to the mainstream of society. Then there are the opportunistic and cynical ones who glean for the thrill of getting something for nothing. Many of the particularly memorable moments arrive by chance - this is not a documentary made with teams of researchers fossicking for the best 'talent'. This is 'found' cinema by a filmmaker who can feel her own life coming to an end and isn't afraid to say it. This remarkable community has been documented by painters including Van Gogh. In her scavenger hunt Varda has fashioned a magnificent portrait of a protected human species and her own life as an artist. A magnificent film.
Review by Louise Keller:
A loving glimpse of life’s recycling by French filmmaker Agnes Varda, The Gleaners and I is a bewitching documentary that mischievously fuses the past with the present, the rich with the poor, the idle with workaholic. According to the Macquarie dictionary, gleaning is to gather [grain] after the reapers or regular gatherers; to discover or find out; to collect or gather anything little by little. And through Varda and her hand-held digital camera, we gather our thoughts as we discover piece by piece how the historic custom of gleaning originated and is immortalised in portraits and paintings that hang in the world’s greatest art galleries. But how is gleaning relevant to life today? One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure as we discover through our journey with Varda through rural and urban France. Evolving from the notion of ‘waste not, want not’, after the harvest or collection of produce from the land, those in need (of food, or a little fun) gather to scoop up those last red tomatoes or oversize giant potatoes or luscious ripe grapes. There are even formal laws applicable to gleaners and through this journey filled with surprises we learn as much about ourselves as we do the gleaners themselves. It is not only the homeless who scavenge through garbage and restaurant discards. You may well be surprised. To the gleaner, an object beckons, thus beginning a new journey, be it for art, survival or frivolity. A documentary of the heart, The Gleaners and I is a joyous excursion. It is not a traditional documentary, but begins by the filmmaker’s urge to film what she could see of herself – from her hands to her greying hair. Its evolution into a richly warm revelation into the human condition is an unexpected treat.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Everything Richard and Louise have said about this film is true. It’s a film of great simplicity, the kind of simplicity that is found in genius. It discovers truths about the human condition with such effortless ease and with such honest exploration that we almost miss the profundity of it all. It seems light as subject matter, and like the best meals, it still satisfies. The insertion of the filmmaker into the documentary adds to the personal nature of the work, making what is already unusual, unique. Little by little, we open our minds and hearts to not only her vision of a little known bunch of gleaners, but to a whole set of human experiences.
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GLEANERS AND I, THE (G)
Glaneurs et la glaneuse, Les
CAST: Bodan Litnanski, Agnès Varda, François Wertheimer
PRODUCER: Ciné Tamaris
DIRECTOR: Agnès Varda
SCRIPT: Agnès Varda
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Didier Doussin, Stéphane Krausz, Didier Rouget, Pascal Sautelet,Agnès Varda
EDITOR: Laurent Pineau, Agnès Varda
MUSIC: Agnès Bredel, Joanna Bruzdowicz, Richard Klugman, Isabelle Olivier
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 25, 2002 (Sydney; other states to follow)