Made by Agnès Varda, the Grande Dame of the Nouvelle Vague, at the ripe age of 71, The Gleaners and I, with its disarmingly self-reflexive digressions, playful ruminations, self-deprecatory humour, left-wing irreverence and deceptively steadfast defiance against incessant consumerism, served as a fascinating crystallization of all her distinctive hallmarks as a filmmaker. It began with the conventional explanation of “gleaming” using Millet’s famous oil-on-canvas painting as a motif, viz. the practice of picking up agricultural harvest predominantly by women (now defunct in France, but, ironically, still very much in vogue in a country like, say, India); however, as one might expect, she used that as a springboard and a point of departure as she expanded her canvas to explore and browse through multifarious interpretations and implications of gleaming. Despite its crisp length, therefore, it managed to cover an incredibly wide spectrum as Varda crisscrossed France with a hand-held camera capturing engrossing vignettes – the impoverished and socially marginalized in urban and rural settings rummaging through discarded potatoes and various other food wastes (both agricultural and from supermarkets); wealthy farm owners who allow gleaning and those who don’t; folks who go about scavenging for abandoned household objects; artists and amateurs for whom random scraps and junks comprise their art; a man who lives on trashed food not because he can’t afford but because he considers such systematic wastage unethical; a highly educated urban gleaner who spends nights teaching immigrants; a gourmet chef who personally gleans the ingredients for his restaurant. Filled with quirky wit, whimsical charm, and alternately affecting and lacerating observations, this boldly political video essay also ultimately demonstrated Varda too as a life-long gleaner – of images, stories and memories.
Director: Agnes Varda
Genre: Documentary/Essay Film/Road Movie