Good to see this again. Funny that all I really remembered is one of the first scenes with Agnes asking a couple reluctant women about gleaning, and Agnes talking about her own hands.
I’m feeling uninspired, so we’ll let Senses of Cinema do the talking:
The official subject of this film is gleaning, the act of gathering remnants of crops from a field after the harvest. As Varda demonstrates, people can be discovered throughout the French countryside gleaning everything from potatoes to grapes, apples to oysters, much as they did hundreds of years ago (though no longer in organised groups). More figuratively, there are also urban gleaners who salvage scraps from bins, appliances from the side of the road, or vegetables from stalls after the markets have closed. And then there’s Varda herself, a gleaner of images, driving around France with a digital camera and a tiny crew (at times, she wields a smaller camera herself, permitting an even greater degree of intimacy).
Varda has a (sometimes contested) reputation as a feminist, left-wing artist, and this is very much a political film, though it offers a series of poetic metaphors and concrete encounters in lieu of an explicit, closely reasoned argument. My guess (based mainly on anecdotal evidence) is that the political outlook of The Gleaners And I has a lot to do with its popular success – even if Varda herself, who began filming back in 1999, wasn’t fully aware how thoroughly she was tapping into the zeitgeist. Without specifically referring to political movements or events, the film embodies a quasi-anarchist ethos now in the air in all sorts of ways – a resistance to consumerism, a suspicion of authority, and a desire to reconnect politics with everyday life.
Agnès enjoys a pilfered fig:
Katy liked the movie, and the next day she felt like going out to pick figs. Shot on a handheld digital videocamera. The picture/framing isn’t always beautiful, but she keeps things quirky enough to stay interesting amongst all the talking heads.
As with Le Bonheur, Varda has taken over the DVD’s special features section herself with a whole hour-long follow-up film entitled Gleaners & I: Two Years Later (2002) Gleaners was her most locally popular and globally well-distributed films in decades, and she racked up awards and fan mail, so here she addresses concerns and gaps in the previous film and catches up with some of its stars.
Killer finale, the heart potatoes, symbol of the Gleaners film, old and wrinkled as it sprouts new life. As the credits roll, sudden cutaways to closeups of the potatoes, exactly as in the opening credits with the sunflower in Le Bonheur.