The Gleaners and I
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|The Gleaners and I|
|Directed by||Agnès Varda|
|Written by||Agnès Varda|
|Release date(s)||2000 (France)|
|Running time||82 minutes|
The Gleaners and I (French: Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, "The gleaners and the female gleaner") is a French documentary by Agnès Varda that features various kinds of gleaning. It was entered into competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival ("Official Selection 2000"), and later went on to earn awards around the world.
The Subjects 
The film tracks a series of gleaners as they hunt for food, knicknacks, and personal connection. Varda travels French countryside and city to find and film not only field gleaners, but also urban gleaners and those connected to gleaners, including a wealthy restaurant owner whose ancestors were gleaners. The film spends time capturing the many aspects of gleaning and the many people who glean to survive. One such person is the teacher named Alain, an urban gleaner with a master's degree who teaches French to immigrants. Varda's other subjects include artists who incorporate recycled materials into their work, symbols she discovers during her filming (including a clock without hands and a heart-shaped potato), and the French law regarding gleaning. Varda also spends time with Louis Pons, who explains how junk is a "cluster of possibilities".
This film has an unexpected brief interview with the psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche.
Varda describes her filming and writing process as cinecriture: the process of writing narration, choosing shots, encountering subjects, editing, choosing music is “all chance working with me, all this is the film writing that I often talk about” (Zeitgeist Films). She describes in the press kit for the film that she and her team would travel and shoot for roughly two weeks at a time and immediately proceed to edit while scouting for additional locations. "Gleaners" was filmed throughout France, in Beauce, Jura, Provence, the Pyrenees and in the suburbs of Paris. She says the entire process took place between September 1999 and April 2000. Varda traveled alone to get most of her “gleaned” shots, scouting markets between 2 and 4 p.m. Most of the abandoned objects and shots she found, including the “dancing lens cap” and the heart-shaped potato, were “[strokes] of luck—and we immediately filmed it” (Zeitgeist Films).
Varda produced "The Gleaners and I" under Cine-Tamaris, the film company she founded in 1954 and that has produced most of her previous films. Gleaners was distributed by Zeitgeist Films in New York, a company that has also distributed films from such directors as Christopher Nolan and the Brothers Quay (Zeitgeist Films).
The film is notable for its use of a hand-held camera and for its unusual camera angles and techniques. In one particular scene Varda, the filmmaker, forgets to turn off her camera. As the camera hangs to her side the filming proceeds, and the viewer can see the shifting ground and the dangling lens cap with a jazz music background. Varda calls this shot "The Dance of the Lens Cap".
In The Gleaners and I, Varda films herself combing her newly discovered gray hair, and there are many visuals of her aging hands. She frequently "catches" trucks on the freeway, forming a circle with her hand in front of the camera framing the truck in the center, then closing her hand as she drives past them.
Much of this footage is woven into the film to show that Varda, as a film maker, is also a gleaner. This concept is made explicit in the French title, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, which could be translated as "the gleaners and the gleaneress".
Historical Significance 
The Gleaners and I was first screened out of competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival ("Official Selection 2000"). The same year it had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (Portuges 305). It went on to earn awards around the world including top honors at the Chicago International Film Festival, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, the European Film Awards, the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, the National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA), the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Online Film Critics Society Awards and the Prague One World Film Festival ("The Gleaners & I"). In addition to its festival honors, The Gleaners and I was also “declared the best French film of 2000 by the French Union of Film Critics, which broke with tradition by not choosing a dramatic film” (Rich 33). But it wasn’t just critics and festival-goers that responded to the film. In France, it brought audiences to theaters for over eight months (Rich 33) and in Paris it attracted 43,000 movie-goers during “the first nine weeks of its summer release” (Darke). Haden Guest, the director of the Harvard Film Archive, hailed The Gleaners and I as “one of Varda's most powerful and popular films” (47). Even Varda, herself, remarked at the film’s success, "I've never in my entire career felt that people have loved a film of mine as much as this one” (Darke).
Ruby Rich believes that the film's appeal "is due in considerable part to Agnès Varda’s own presence" (33). Haden Guest argues that the ease with which Varda blends documentary and narrative technique is a key reason that her films continue to be so relevant, especially “as we witness a resurgence of documentary and a particularly strong interest in hybridized modes of fiction/nonfiction cinema” (48). Jake Wilson, on the other hand, conjectures that Varda (while perhaps not fully realizing it) tapped into the cultural zeitgeist and constructed a film that “embodies a quasi-anarchist ethos” that is built on a “resistance to consumerism, a suspicion of authority, and a desire to reconnect politics with everyday life.”
Varda’s The Gleaners and I is notable in another regard, as well. Here, in a film about gleaning, Varda recognizes that she is, herself, a gleaner. “I'm not poor, I have enough to eat,” says Varda, but she points to “another kind of gleaning, which is artistic gleaning. You pick ideas, you pick images, you pick emotions from other people, and then you make it into a film” (Anderson 24). To collect the objects of her gleaning, Varda chooses a digital video camera. In a number of scenes Varda shows and discusses the camera itself and in so doing transforms a film about waste into a reflexive meditation on the art of digital documentary. While Varda did not pioneer the reflexive documentary (that honor goes to Dziga Vertov and his 1929 masterpiece Man with a Movie Camera) (Chapman 114), Varda’s work has long been notable for its “reflexive and first-person tendencies” (Guest 46).
Another factor that makes The Gleaners and I especially noteworthy in the context of cinematic history is the fact that a filmmaker of Varda’s stature chose to abandon high-end film equipment for low-end digital video. For Varda, the decision was in many ways a practical one. As she notes in her interview with Melissa Anderson “I had the feeling that this is the camera that would bring me back to the early short films I made in 1957 and 1958. I felt free at that time. With the new digital camera, I felt I could film myself, get involved as a filmmaker” (24). Varda’s choice to make a camcorder a primary tool of production as well as a central element of her film, can be seen as an implicit (if not explicit) recognition of a new digital era in documentary filmmaking. Yet, for Varda, “the first-person, artisan film-making encouraged by digital video [was] nothing new” (Darke). While she acknowledges video’s convenience, she downplays any larger significance: "What's missing in all this talk of digital technologies is the understanding that ... they're not ends in themselves" (Darke). For Varda, digital cameras and editing equipment are simply tools that enable her to film by herself and to get closer to people "and to collapse the time lapse between wanting to film something and actually being able to do it" (Darke).
Anderson, M., and A. Varda. "The Modest Gesture of the Filmmaker - an Interview with Agnes Varda." CINEASTE 26.4 (2001): 24-7. Print.
Chapman, Jane. Issues in Contemporary Documentary. Cambridge: Polity, 2009. Print.
Darke, Chris. "Refuseniks (Agnes Varda's DV Documentary, the 'Gleaners and I')." SIGHT AND SOUND 11.1 (2001): 30-3. Print.
Ebert, Roger. "The Gleaners and I." rogerebert.com. rogerebert.com, 11 May 2001. Web. 20 Nov 2010.
"The Gleaners & I." IMDbPro. Amazon.com, Inc, n.d. Web. 6 Nov 2010.
Guest, Haden. "Emotion Picture: Agnes Varda's Self-Reflexive the Beaches of Agnes and the Cinema of Generosity." Film Comment 45.4 (2009): 44. Print.
"Official Selection 2000." Festival de Cannes. Festival de Cannes, n.d. Web. 20 Nov 2010.
Portuges, Catherine. "The Gleaners and I." American Historical Review 106.1 2001. 305. Web. 17 Nov 2010. History Cooperative Complete. Retrieved at American University.
"Press Kit." ZeitgeistFilms.com. Zeitgeist Films. n. d. Web. 12 Nov 2010.
Rich, B. Ruby. "Gleaners Over Gladiators." The Nation 272.14 (2001): 33. Print.
Wilson, Jake. "Trash And Treasure: The Gleaners And I." Senses of Cinema 23 (2002): n. pag. Web. 12 Nov 2010.
- The Gleaners and I at the Internet Movie Database
- Reviews and information from the Rotten Tomatoes website