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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Gleaners and I
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2002
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is a wonderful documentary that reminds us of how much we produce and waste in the world and how the disenfranchised (and artistic) make use of that waste to survive. The scenes of tons of dumped potatoes and discarded food at the open air markets are remarkable as well as the gleaning laws France has on its books...its this whole underworld of gleaning I found so compelling. The characters Varda encounters are equally compelling and interestingly are not portrayed as whiny or blameful of others for their situations: they simply state how they live and we are left impressed with their ingenuity.
At times the film moves slowly as Varda includes some personal shots related to her aging and trucks passing by on the highway, but these moments of introspection are quiet pauses and do not detract from the whole of the film. The DVD has a bonus hour- long "Two Years Later" film that revisits some of the people we first met and is equally enjoyable. All in all, this is a documentary that is eye-opening and respectful of its subject.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The explicit subject matter of this film is "gleaning": the long-standing but currently threatened practice of taking up and making one's own what others leave behind. On that subject alone Agnes Varda has created a remarkable documentary, that covers the history of gleaning, its legal aspects, the wide variety of gleaning practices, and most importantly the people who glean for a number of reasons, not all of which have to do with poverty or destitution.

What interests me most about the documentary, however, is the way in which Varda connects her own practice as a filmmaker to the practice of gleaning. After all filmmaking and especially documentary filmmaking depend upon and take up the remains of reality, that aspect of reality that can be taken for free, and the taking of which does not diminish the possession of its owners. In that sense, filmmaking is essentially gleaning, and in arguing for the rights of gleaners, Varda is also providing a defense of her own practices. What is nice about her involvement in the film is that while she is always present, and while she includes herself among the gleaners presented in the film, she does not in any way push herself upon the viewer. As much as I love the films of recent auteur documentarians such as Moore and Spurlock, there is something very refreshing about the way in which Varda makes her presence felt in this film.

What is perhaps even more remarkable about the film than this provocative analogy is the way in which her film subtly raises questions about the nature of film and responds to a long-standing debate on this topic. There are two major strands of thinking about what is distinctive of film. One is the tradition of thinking (e.g. Bazin) that takes its example from the work of the Lumiere brothers: that film is about taking up reality as it presents itself and preserving it for the viewer, revealing it in a way that is potentially more complete, more detailed and more compelling than its ephemeral presence in time. The other tradition takes its example from George Melies, and suggests that film is illusion, that what is distinctive to film is the capacity to take realities and reorganize them into something new, that is at a remove from reality. In this film, what Varda does is suggest a provocative combination of these approaches. The example from her film that illustrates this is her account of the "junk artist" (I can't remember his name) who takes up trash (what nobody wants) in order to make something of it that compels attention, a work of art. This film is able to accomplish just such a creation.

My favorite "scene" in the film is her discovery, by chance, in a thrift store, of a painting that combines several of the images of gleaning that she had been discussing in her historical overview. She says, roughly, in a voice-over: "this really happened, I didn't make it up." There's something very telling about this scene: that even in a documentary, one must call attention to the reality of the events depicted, for we all know that events can be fabricated. It is such a nice and simple reminder that "realism" is itself a style, and from her early film "Cleo from 5 to 7" to this film Agnes Varda continues to prove herself a subtle master stylist.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2002
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Quite simply, this was easily my favorite film released in 2001. The filmmaker Varda takes an immensely thoughtful look at contemporary gleaning practices and compares them to the gleaners of the past, particularly those potato field pickers seen in the famed Millet painting. Of great note is her use of digital video and how she considers this medium as a form of gleaning as well in that one can easily pick and choose among the remains ones collects in the camera. Lurking near the surface always are the concepts of age and decay, made all the more heartfelt by the aging filmmaker who pauses often to consider her advancing years.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2002
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
One of Agnes varda's best films, created using a small digutal camera, as she documents the lives of the scavengers in France who live on the stuff that other people throw out. Compassionate, brilliantly composed, and widely distributed around the world (except in the US, where only mainstream junk receives any real distribution), this is a brief, funny and epigrammatic film that any real lover of cinema should check out. Varda is the forgotten founder of the French New Wave, and she is finally attaining some measure of the respect she deserves. Along with VAGABOND, this is one of Varda's very best works.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2006
Format: DVD
I "gleaned" this French jewel from the shelves of our library DVD collection. And I'm glad I did.

This film is rich in texture, deep in multiple meanings, provides a variety of real characters, a visual feast of various regions of France and how the act of gleaning is as alive today as when the famous paintings were made centuries ago.

It has given me a new appreciation for the "scrounging" that I, and others I know, have done over the years. I think from now on I'll always refer to it as "gleaning."

People and situations will look different to me because I've seen this film. The gleaners are all around us. Now they are no longer invisible.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
At one point in this unusual and very interesting documentary by French New Wave director Agnes Varda (born, 1928!) she ties it together by showing art made from "gleaned" articles--that is, trash thrown away and made into objects of art by artists.

Of course it is trite to recall that "one man's trash is another man's treasure," but it is so. How dearly archeologists love ancient midden sites, and how much we can learn about the ancients from their trash. But Varda is here to show us that we can also learn a lot about modern people from what they throw away, and from what is gleaned, and from the gleaners themselves. I thought the guy who ate (grazed almost) as he went through the market place after closing was interesting. Clearly going through the trash is something instinctive with humans: no doubt it comes from our prehistoric past when we were hunters and gatherers.

The main focus here is on gleaning fruits and vegetables left behind by mechanized pickers. It is interesting to note that there are laws going back hundreds of years that regulate gleaners. (Varda puts a French lawyer on camera to quote some relevant law.) I was fascinated to see that there are dumpster divers in France. In America dumpster diving has been a big deal since at least the sixties. Today there are Web sites devoted to dumpster diving, and I personally know some people who dumpster dive for fun and profit. It was also interesting to see just which fruits and vegetable are gleaned from the ground and from the trees and vines and plants left after the harvest, and to hear from the people who do the gleaning. Varda shows mounds of potatoes left behind, and we learn that both potatoes too small and potatoes too big are discarded by the producers. (In America, large potatoes are not only not discarded, they bring a higher price.) Interesting too were her interviews with French gypsies and others who derive a good part of their subsistence from gleaning.

I enjoyed seeing parts of France not normally seen on the screen or by tourists. In fact in some ways this documentary could serve as a kind of travelog so widely does Varda and her camera travel about the French countryside and cities.

See this for the Grande Dame of French cinema, Agnes Varda, auteur of the innovative documentary Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961) and other films who is now 77 years old and still going strong.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2005
Format: DVD
Enjoyed this very much. Again, this is one of those films that won't work for you if you've only grown up on typical Hollywood fair. This has it's own tempo and visual language. It's best viewed with an open mind. Trust the filmaker and relax and enjoy/learn from this documentary. At times its touching, sad, enlightening. This isn't just about people surviving as scavengers. That's some of it, but it's also about people making art from left objects/trash, and some have philosophical views on the waste our society produces. Also, I really enjoyed the asides about the filmakers aging. There is an elegiac thread woven through this, a homage to aging which is both somber and clear-eyed. I highly recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2002
Format: DVD
Agnes Varda is so clever and unique in dealing with this unusual theme. This work is as beautiful as other works of Varda, her camera lens will take you to those scenes which you never notice but will be deeply moved. With graceful and lithe tempo, you'll follow her into a trip you never know.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2010
Format: DVD
It's very difficult to create a whimsical and joyful tone without crossing the line into sappy or hokey. I would say this extends into many other art forms besides doc film. And Varda does so brillantly.

Whenever you are involved in making art it sharpens your senses and makes you so much more aware of the beauty surrounding you. Get into photography and boy do you notice more about the world around you. Write a screenplay and you pay so much more attention to the things people say and do, discovering so many interesting things in the process.

I think that's a big part of this film - the heightened awareness of the world and its many little pleasures and wonders that being a filmmaker can bring you. I was at a print making workshop the other week. The teacher said "oh we artists keep everyhing". Another big theme is the challenge that seeing the beauty and possibility of things brings - figuring out what to hold onto and what to let go.

I once heard an author who writes about creativity being asked to define the difference between spirituality and creativity. She refused to do so, saying there was none in her eyes. I suspect Varda would probably feel the same way.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
This is an excellent movie. All aspects - visual, musical, and artistic - were of high quality. The conversation was as in a normal day-to-day atmosphere while the cinematography was very professionally and artistically handled. The music heightened the visual and vocal. The age of Ms. Varda added greatly to the film. A younger person would not have produced nearly the same affect as she. It was a superb modern day tragicomedy without any pretenses.
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