The Gleaners and I title image
, ,
82 min.
Release Date
The Gleaners and I poster

When I was a young boy, I would sit on my grandmother’s lap and examine her hands. Her skin looked transparent to me, thinly stretched over tendons and bones. My hands would follow the blue lines beneath her skin and note the faint liver spots. She would laugh when I poked her veins and moved them beneath her skin, and she told me that my skin would look like this when I became her age. She grew up on a farm in Minnesota, and she may have gleaned, though I never had a chance to ask her. I think about Irene’s hands while watching Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I, when the then 72-year-old filmmaker trains her digital camcorder on herself, “Filming one hand with the other,” she says. She considers how they’ve aged, and how, under the right conditions, they might serve as a framing device. Varda, who’s the grandmother every cinephile wishes they had, began her documentary as an investigation into the tradition of gleaning. She sought to explore people who take leftover food after the harvest because they must and those who make an ethical choice to glean to combat consumer waste. But rather than adopt an aesthetic pretense such as vérité style or direct cinema to capture her subject, Varda’s mode of filmmaking, like her best work, defies conventions and proves both experimental and personal. Equally as important to her subject, The Gleaners and I considers her own gleaning as a filmmaker, offering an unconventional self-portrait of someone who culls moments from the world and, through her unique perspective, turns them into art.

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