Thursday, 2 August 2018

I've Just Seen: The Gleaners and I (2000)

 Director: Agnes Varda

Last year in Australia a TV series called 'The War on Waste' aired, showing the amount of waste created by a country of 24 million people, including horrifying statistics about the number of perfectly good bananas thrown away (something like 30 million a year out of around the 50 million produced). Why? Because they fall outside the strict requirements of the supermarkets. A similar scenario happens in Varda's documentary, with a truck load of potatoes dumped in a field. But as Varda shows, there are people who make use of these oddly shaped, discarded food.

Gleaning is an incredibly old practice where people collect items discarded by others. In the Bible Ruth gleans wheat from the fields of Boaz; poor people in 18th century England gleaned food from the hedgerows; a modern day equivalent is dumpster divers retrieving perfectly find food from shop bins. Varda's film focuses on many different people who practice gleaning in early 21st century France, exploring the many different reasons for doing so: poverty is one common reason, but not the only one.

The film approaches it topic with curiosity and appreciation of people's desire to combat the wasteful results of consumerism. I could imagine this topic could be tackled again today in another documentary, especially considering the expansion of the world's population (1.5 billion more people today than in 2000).

Varda is a wonderful companion on this exploration of gleaning. She lets her subjects speak for themselves, but also has reflective moments in the film where she speaks about recycled art she has seen, and even does a little gleaning herself. It is great to know she is still going strong today.

Documentaries allow you to explore parts of life you didn't even know existed, and while I knew gleaning had once existed I hadn't considered its modern iterations. As long as we continue to throw out perfectly good food and technology, gleaning (and films about it) will always have a place in society. 


  1. I must have been busy the first week of August to have missed your Gleaners and I review. I watched it because I was trying to get all the List films from after the year 2000 out of the way and I came across The Gleaners and I (2001) online for a nominal fee so I watched it … and I totally fell in love with Agnes Varda as a result! I had seen Cleo from 5 to 7 a few months earlier and I liked it a lot, but The Gleaners and I was a revelation.

    If you haven't seen Faces Places, her recent documentary (Oscar nominated!), fast track it! A few weeks after I paid $5 to see it, it showed on Netflix Streaming where I could have seen it for free!

    1. I haven't seen it yet, but I shall look out for it.

      Varda is an easy filmmaker to love, she and her films are charming as well as deep.