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agnes varda - "gleaners and i"
posted on 13-Jul-2001 by anton
agnes warda, affectionately called “the grandmother of the french new wave”, filmed this movie with a small production crew, traveling across france in the course of a year, filming on locations with a small digital camera.
strictly speaking this is a documentary, but it is filmed by this gentle, energetic woman with such a strong personal presence, light humor, and witty narrative, that it appears to be more of a personal essay, a diary, as it jumps between social themes, art, musing about the passing landscape – all of it loosely connected with the main topic of the film, that deals with gleaners. this word, coming from french “glaner”, has a long history, and is used to describe the ones that once followed the farmers, picking up the food left behind by the farmers.

agnes varda goes across the country, interviewing gleaners all over the place – from urban settings to countryside landscapes. she talks to people that glean out of need - fired truck drivers, homeless and poor, single mothers. she talks to the guy that has been feeding from trash cans for 10 years because this is the only way he can protest against waste and pollution; she talks to a biology teacher that lives in a shelter, teaching french to senegal immigrants, early in the morning he goes to the city and raids the marketplaces, picking up a food for his vegetarian diet, commenting on its chemical and nutrition value, as he tosses it in his mouth.

she talks to the artists that create junk art, from comical (as in the case of wrinkled russian immigrant building himself a mansion out of abandoned scrap, particularly favoring the dolls) to "professional" (as in the case of an accomplished artist that comments on his sculptures and paintings).

somehow this movie has a peculiar “light” feeling, it is not particularly optimistic, but it never is depressing; varda is both skeptical and sympathetic for her heroes; her gentle humor is present in almost every scene..

i have never been really fond of documentaries, repelled by their cold, impersonal style, but this movie has agnes varda's personality that makes it a warm, thoughtful narrative. she is a gleaner herself, picking up bits and pieces for her film from all over the place, and both interpreting them herself and allowing you to peek into this world parallel world. at some point you notice how full of symbolism this film is, and you start actively participating in it, intrigued by chance and found metaphors.

it was funny to notice people leaving the theatre and casting curious, contemplative, interested looks at the trash cans by the door.

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