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GLEANERS AND I, THE (LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE)(director/writer: Agnes Varda; cinematographers: Stephane Krausz/ Didier Rouget/Didier Doussin/Pascal Sautelet/Agnes Varda; editor: Agnes Varda/Laurent Pineau; music: Joanna Bruzdowicz; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Cine Tamaris; Zeitgeist; 2000-France-in French with English subtitles)
“A moving humanist/social conscience documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

By strict definition gleaners describes the practice of gathering crops left on the ground after the harvest, such as any grain. But that old-fashioned practice has all but given way to machines doing that job. Veteran seventysomething French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda (“Far From Vietnam”/”Vagabond”/”Cleo from 5 to 7”) shoots a moving humanist/social conscience documentary that gets its title from an 1867 painting by Jean-Francois Millet entitled that “Les Glaneuses” (“Women Gleaning”). It shows three peasant women in a wheat field, stooping to pick up what’s left behind after the harvest. Inspired by this painting Ms. Varda, with her digital video camera in her hand, tracks down modern-day gleaners across France and interviews them whenever possible. This leads her to identify with a wide variety of gleaners, mostly people living on the edge of society as marginals, such as impoverished gypsy caravan dwellers living off potatoes dumped in a country field, those picking the seconds in grapes in Burgundy (where gleaning is illegal), those waiting for a low tide to pick up oysters, those collecting junk and making from it art, those picking fridges off the street and repairing them to be sold or given to friends, the homeless scouring trash cans for food (living on the discarded scraps of a wasteful society), those in the early morning searching the abandoned green markets of Paris for leftover veggies, and a shelter-living young man with a master’s degree who gets his food from the trash cans and in the evenings voluntarily teaches French to Malian and Senegalese immigrants who live in his shelter. There’s also a young chef, with a two-star rating in Michelin, who gleans herbs for his upscale restaurant and believes in not wasting any food.

Ms. Varda, who identifies her film-making with the gleaners and their struggle to survive, comes up with a fascinating and lighthearted portrait of the invisible people who live on the fringes of society. It’s a fun film, made on a low-budget that feels just right.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”