Monday, April 22, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: The Gleaners & I

(In Memory of Agnes Varda (1928-2019))

Written, directed, narrated, co-shot, and co-edited by Agnes Varda, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners & I) is the story of the life of gleaners who live outside the confines of traditional and modern society in France. The film follows Varda as she meets these individuals who don’t live by the rules of society while trying to survive in an increasingly modern world. The result is one of the engrossing and rapturous films about a group of people trying to keep the act gleaning alive before the turn of the millennium.

Shot from 1999 to May of 2000, the film has Agnes Varda explore the lives of gleaners who come to gardens, vineyards, and such after harvest gathering food that hadn’t been picked up. It’s a film that explore the idea of gleaning, salvaging, dumpster-diving, and such to gather food and material that is neglected and be of use to a world where waste is prevalent. The act of gleaning was something that was common during the 18th and 19th century where people would be able to gather leftovers that hadn’t been picked from gardens following the harvest period so that food would be salvaged as Varda would cite various paintings as a way of life that is now considered outdated before the turn of the millennium. During the course of the film as Varda would travel through France in various locations, she discovered that it’s not just the poor, outcasts, and foreigners that would continue to glean but also regular people and a few of the rich where some who own crops and gardens would allow people to take whatever is left for nothing.

Varda and her fellow cinematographers in Didier Doussin, Stephane Krausz, Didier Rouget, and Pascal Sautelet would shoot the film entirely on small hand-held digital cameras where the look had a crudeness yet it captures a realism that allow Varda to gather so much of what she could find in the spur of the moment. Notably as she would become a gleaner herself by not just picking up leftover food from greenhouses, crops, and gardens but also in objects she would find and salvage. At the same time, Varda would film herself where she would take great close-ups in her hands knowing that she is reaching old age but accepts it as if it’s an old friend. Varda’s direction has this looseness in the way she interviews various people including a chef, a wine owner, and a couple of lawyers who talk about the law of gleaning and the changes its being made before the arrival of the 21st Century.

Varda would talk to people who are keeping the art of gleaning alive despite the law as it also play into the world of poverty, economic and social imbalance, neglect, and greed. Varda would take a break from the main narrative to go into a case of a group of young homeless kids vandalizing a supermarket as she would get both sides of the story from the supermarket owner and the kids themselves with an attorney explaining what is to happen. There is also the story of a teacher named Alain who lives in a home with various immigrants from Africa where half of the people in the building are illiterate yet he teaches them how to read but is also someone who gleans because he can’t afford to buy food at a grocery store and he would often find food that is still in good condition.

With editors Jean-Baptiste Morin and Laurent Pineau, Varda would also play into a bit of style for some of the scenes on the road as she gaze fondly into big trucks where they would be some jump-cuts and montages including one glorious sequence of her filming her camera lens cap doing a little jazz dance. The sound work of Emmanuel Soland is superb in capturing the natural elements of the locations in how a piece of food would sound like as well as this threat of the modern world from stopping the ideas of gleaning. Music composers Isabelle Olivier and Joanna Bruzdowicz provide this incredible mix of music ranging from soothing electronic music, classical-based pieces, jazz, and some hip-hop as it play into the struggles of the gleaners but also their need to survive without compromise.

Les glaneurs et la glaneuse is a tremendous film from Agnes Varda. It’s a documentary film that explores the world of gleaning and people who are trying to keep it alive in an increasingly modern world. It’s a film that doesn’t exactly play by the rules of the documentary but also give voice to those who are often unable to say something and show a process that could still happen in times that are troubling. In the end, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse is a spectacular film from Agnes Varda.

Agnes Varda Films: Diary of a Pregnant Woman - Du cote de la cote - La Pointe Courte - Cleo from 5 to 7 - Le Bonheur - (Les Creatures) – (Far from Vietnam) – (Lions Love) – (Daguerreotypes) – One Sings, the Other Doesn’t – (Murals Murals) – (Documenteur) - Vagabond - (Jane B. by Agnes V.) – ((Le Petit Amour) – (Jacquot de Nantes) – (The Young Girls Turn 25) – (One Hundred and One Nights) – The World of Jacques Demy - (The Gleaners & I: Two Years Later) – (Cinevardaphoto) – (Some Windows of Noirmoutier) - (The Beaches of Agnes) – (Faces Places) – (Varda by Agnes)

© thevoid99 2019


Dell said...

I've never heard of this one. Now I'm adding something else to my ever-growing watchlist.

Brittani Burnham said...

I haven't seen enough of Varda but I find her so fascinating. I'm making an effort to see more of her work.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-It is widely considered to be one of the finest documentaries ever as it's also one of Varda's finest films as she's made so many but they're all different as there's so much more of her to cover. She's worth seeking out.

@Brittani-There's a couple of box sets from Criterion that is available while a film she did in the 70s is coming out to Criterion some time later this year. She is just fascinating as the way she treats the camera in this doc is just naturalistic.