Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France, 2000. Ciné Tamaris. Screenplay by Agnès Varda. Cinematography by Didier Doussin, Stephane Krausz, Didier Rouget, Pascal Sautelet, Agnès Varda. Music by Joanna Bruzdowicz, Isabelle Olivier. Film Editing by Jean-Baptiste Morin, Laurent Pineau, Agnès Varda. Toronto International Film Festival 2000.
Agnes Varda looks up gleaners in the dictionary and finds a Francois Millet painting of women gathering food after the harvest, which inspires her to cross France looking into the subject in various forms. The actual role of gleaners doesn’t quite exist in the same manner today as it did before modern farm machinery made harvesting so much more efficient, it’s no longer groups of women gathering the crops left after the men have done their reaping, but there are still plenty of fields where people go to gather vegetables and fruit that are missed by machines or have grown after the harvest season has ended. In some cases the people are poor and/or undocumented and are barely subsisting on what they can find, in others they are perfectly middle-class and enjoy the activity; some locations she goes to have no prohibition on gleaning, others prohibit the exercise and others only allow it under strict conditions. Because Varda is a great artist, her playful exploration of the subject goes into much more daring examinations of collecting and foraging, including youths going through garbage in the cities and her own feelings on her personal life and physical body. Critics were ecstatic about this documentary when it was released and saw it as a return to top form for Varda, going back to introspective, dazzling film essays like Mur Murs and Daguerreotypes after a series of films that expressed her mourning for her late husband Jacques Demy. The enthusiasm with which the film was received (and still generates) was no exaggeration, it gives us all the lovely detail of getting up close and personal to the people she captures while doing very little personal editorializing or manipulating of their stories.