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:: The Gleaners And I (les Glaneurs Et La Glaneuse)

Agnes Varda is known as the grandmother of the French New Wave and has been making films since 1954. At 74, Varda has produced a deceptively playful masterwork; confidently wandering from the fields of Provence to the streets of Paris exploring what it means to glean or harvest. Shot entirely on DV, one of the more delightful aspects of the film is that Varda’s amusement and joy with “the new small digital cameras” becomes part of the films’ theme as she discovers the possibilities DV offers her to glean new images.

Varda’s Gleaners are people who go to already harvested fields to look for discarded bounty: potatoes that were to small, large or odd, turnips that fell through the mechanical harvester, apples left unwanted on the ground. She interviews people who have to varying degrees structured their lives around collecting the discarded. This investigation takes her from the fields to the streets where artists collect junk to make art or activists live out of garbage cans to reject the institutionalised wastefulness of their society.

It’s a pity that a plot summary of this film belies the humour, grace and profundity of Varda’s work. There is a captivatingly whimsical quality to this story that Varda explores through the characters of those who glean. There is nothing dull or heavy about her investigation, quite the opposite. She seizes every opportunity to take an amusing detour then walks confidently back to the main theme in such a way that the film becomes richer and more fascinating with every scene.

There are startlingly raw moments in this film such as the interview with Claude, an unemployed man forced to live on scraps and leftovers who says simply: ‘We are not afraid of getting our hands dirty, you can always wash your hands’. These are balanced by the ruminations of artists who see rubbish as ‘a pile of possibilities’ and the comical story of how a provincial wife gleaned her reluctant husband.

Varda’s film is a cinematic treat. ‘The Gleaners and I’ despite being an apparently art house with a capital A film, is an accessible and entertaining documentary that deserves a broad audience.

Screening at the Lumiere Cinemas