Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Written & Directed by: Agnès Varda.
Produced by: Cine Tamaris.
Released by: Zeigeist.
France. 82 min. Not Rated.
DVD Features: Additional Footage: The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later. Filmography. Production Notes. Scene Selection.

In this poetic travelogue documentary, as well as entertaining contemplation of the vast excess and waste of modern Western society, Agnès Varda, with her portable digital camera, travels throughout urban and rural France gathering or gleaning characters, art and social commentary from seemingly random destinations. The first stop is the North of France and the potato fields, where Varda finds art in the mounds of rejected potatoes, and where the modern world encroaches on the old, or rather, where the modern world has failed to make the old obsolete.

From the two-star chef to the psychotherapist wine maker, the oyster gatherers to the fridge collector, we learn about the history and penal codes that govern the ways of the gleaners as well as the individual desires that drive people to glean. For Varda, the pleasure in gleaning is discovering beauty in found objects.

In urban France we meet two of the most enduring characters: a vegetarian with a master's degree who lives in a shelter where he teaches immigrants French and a rubber-boot wearing man who finds waste unacceptable. His passion is for sea birds, which he believes are dying because of our over consuming society. His motto is birds first.

While Varda's passionate humanity and democratic eye paints a compassionate picture of this diverse but committed group of gatherers, perhaps the least integrated part of the film is Varda's self-reflexive story of aging and the contemplation of her hands. But this is only a minor detraction in a gem of a documentary. Jane Wagner, Director/Producer (Emmy and Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning Girls Like Us and the Sundance Best Short Film Award winning Tom's Flesh)

DVD Extras: Varda continues her lively “wandering-road-documentary” in a 62-minute follow-up two years later. She sets out on the road to meet other collectors and reunites with the calm and serious Alain F., still teaching immigrants and living in subsidize housing. (Varda gracefully accepts his criticism that the inclusion of her self-portrait in Gleaners was not necessary). What sets this companion piece apart from the earlier film is the further glimpse into these collectors’ lives, including two itinerant alcoholics who have started to set down roots. As a result, this sequel is equally as compassionate as the first film. KT
May 23, 2003