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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 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.

The DVD includes a fabulous ‘extension’ or reprise of the film in a follow up film made 2 years later. It has the same emotional hit and extends our appreciation of both the subject matter and the filmmaker.

Published January 1, 2004

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Glaneurs et la glaneuse, Les

CAST: Documentary with Bodan Litnanski, Agnès Varda, François Wertheimer

DIRECTOR: Agnès Varda

SCRIPT: Agnès Varda

RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes


DVD RELEASE: January 1, 2004

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