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The Gleaners and I

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It's been 10 years since the release of The Gleaners and I.

I watched it again tonight and fell in love with it all over again. It belongs in our Top 100, I think. I'd better check to see if anybody's nominated it. Such a beautiful poem of a movie. I'd love to host a film festival on creativity and spirituality, featuring this, Rivers and Tides, Fast Cheap and Out of Control, The Five Obstructions, Touch the Sound and Seraphine.

Edited by Overstreet



Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.


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  • 4 months later...

Loved it. I don't think I've seen a more gentle and humble film than this one. Humble in its purpose, the person making it, and in the format used to shoot it. We take MiniDV for granted these days, so it was a delight to return to when it was groundbreaking and see a veteran filmmaker rejoice in the mobility it affords her. I generally dislike the look of video, but here it works beautifully; something about its immediacy adds to the poignance of her images.

There is a spirit of generosity inhabiting every moment; a warmth and affection for anyone who happens to wander into the frame. Varda's eyes, and ours, are constantly looking for opportunities to be opened wider, to see more. It's a film that keeps drawing me back to the Beatitudes. There is a constant sense of "blessed are the poor" running throughout, gently lifting them up and learning from them, without vilifying those who would be traditionally demonized in a different documentary on the same subject. Varda points out where lines might be drawn, but she never draws them herself. All are given their dignity.

And then her exploration of gleaning itself in various forms boggles the mind with possibilities of meaning. Most of all I'm affected by how Varda gleans from the lives of her subjects; how she tells the stories of the left-overs in their own voices, and in doing so reminds me of the God who gleans from the left-overs of society, looking for the outcasts and ignored in order to do his work.

The 2002 follow-up "Two Years Later" is also a minor treasure in its own right. Far from just a "where-are-they-now" piece, it climaxes with a heartbreaking monologue by Varda herself, telling us what viewers had gleaned about her and her late husband from The Gleaners, and how she could never see it until she herself was told. The film just keeps on giving, to everyone involved.

Does it belong in the Top 100? Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

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  • 6 months later...

Just finished streaming this from Netflix (so no bonus features). It's definitely a nice little documentary, but not something I'd lobby for to get on a top 100 list. Of the Varda I've seen, Cleo From 5 to 7 seems most deserving of that kind of recognition, and so of course I forgot to even nominate it for the new list. doh.gif

By the way, there's an underground (literally) documentary called Dark Days about homeless gleaners/scavengers in New York who live in an abandoned subway tunnel that I thought about while I was watching this.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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  • 10 months later...

Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his three-star review:

There’s a suggestive discrepancy between the French and English titles of this wonderful essay film completed by Agnes Varda last year. It’s a distinction that tells us something about the French sense of community and the Anglo-American sense of individuality — concepts that are virtually built into the two languages. Les glaneurs et la glaneuse can be roughly translated as “the gleaners and the female gleaner,” with the plural noun masculine only in the sense that all French nouns are either masculine or feminine. The Gleaners and I sets up an implicit opposition between “people who glean” and the filmmaker, whereas Les glaneurs et la glaneuse links them, asserting that she’s one of them. . . .

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 7 years later...

#8 on A&F's Growing Older list, The Gleaners and I helped Agnas Varda establish a new, unique voice in the cinema world. She had already developed a profound voice through her masterful work from the 1960s-90s, but Gleaners was a transition for her. From this point forward, she would be representative of senior citizens. She embodies a life of purpose and hope that transcends natural age-related limitations. Her last film Faces Places (also on our list) was released a little over a year before she died, and her documentary series Varda by Agnes was aired posthumously. Every second of The Gleaners and I (about 19 years before her death) challenges all people to make the most of their lives and to keep living productively no matter how much the body might rebel. This message especially speaks to those of her own age group, and as its prominent messenger, she demonstrated what that can look like through her later films, beginning with this one. 

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