The Gleaners and I

Our latest foray into foreign films was less fulfilling than expected. Doesn’t the following description for The Gleaners and I sound brilliant?

Agnes Varda’s no-holds-barred documentary about scavengers and recyclers is an insouciant treat from beginning to end. Inspired by Jean-Francois Millet’s famous painting “Les Glaneuses,” Varda strikes out with just a hand-held digital camera in search of the modern equivalent of Millet’s grain field gleaners. She finds her quarry at dumpsters, outdoor markets and roadsides across France. A unique film with an unexpectedly obtuse perspective. (Netflix packaging)

This could be accurate as long as insouciant means an elderly woman with no sense of cinematography or story line or character development walking around with a camera doing extreme close-ups of cabbage or heart-shaped potatoes or her hand (sometimes still, sometimes grabbing 18-wheelers like a child pretending to squish a playmate’s head between the thumb and pointer-finger).

Charissa couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t stop; the insanity pulled me along.

Have you seen it? Go ahead, tell me how artistically bankrupt I am. Point out to me that she won awards across Europe, so clearly I have unrefined cultural tastes.

High Point: Meeting a gentleman who sells newspapers, scavenges for food after the city market has closed, spends two hours a night teaching immigrants how to read and write French, and has a master’s degree in biology.

High Point 2: Listening to the same gentleman in the follow-up documentary made two years after the original. He shares his opinion of the film. He did not like her presence—footage of her hands and hair. It was “unnecessary.” Brilliant!

Low Point: The footage of the “dancing” lens cap taken when she forgot to turn off the camera while walking through a field. Unbelievable. Absolutely no relevance to the story. Except that I guess she gleaned a bit of throw-away footage and shared it with curiosity seekers like those who come to see the castle made from trash.

Conclusion: The Gleaners and I was a reminder of our culture of waste and the resourcefulness of those at the edges. It had great potential; the film could have been fabulous. But instead it’s so bad it hurts.


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