Friday, May 19, 2006

Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse



A couple days ago, I got to one of my lonely Netflix dvd's (sometimes they can sit cold and alone, waiting by the dvd player with naught but a paper sleeve for warmth, for up to a month, cancelling out all economic sense) and watched Agnès Varda's documentary Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse (in the US, The Gleaners and I). Now, I suppose, as with nonfiction books, I don't delve into the documentaries so much. I'm not sure what it is, perhaps the series of heads talking at you, the slightly off-putting feeling that you should be learning something interesting, like about bears or conspiracies or bear conspiracies. Or maybe I find that for whatever reason, the story, because real life is a story too, both overarching or individually per character, often fades away. Though the last couple documentaries I've seen, I've enjoyed. Soooo I dunno.

Glaneurs, though, was sort of touching. It's still, for the most part, a bunch of people talking to a camera, but there's a real personal quality to it, maybe because it's filmed with a handheld digital camera or that we're sort of following Varda on a road trip of sorts and witnessing her personal explorations of aging along with the glaneurs, that bring it more within an emotion.

The project was sparked by an interest in glaneurs, or in English, gleaners. In older times, they harvested stuff, like the painting above. Gleaners pick things off the ground mostly; there's a different term for those who pick off the trees, like fruits. Varda makes a connection between these glaneurs and the ones today – those who glean from the streets in the city, from the garbage or the debris at the end of the day of a food market, and in the country, the fields after the machines harvest crops. A lot of perfectly good produce lies to rot in fields either because they don't meet 'industry'/goldilocks standards (too big, too small, whatever) or just because it's too expensive to hire people to go after the machines.

These gleaners collect food for different reasons; sometimes even fun, some to protest the incredible waste of food, some simply because it's free. Varda gleans some potatoes that look like hearts and takes fondly to them. That she puts herself into the film and yet lets the characters she talks to completely have their own space provides for a good mix. The gleaners are not all picking up food; others are collecting things to make art or use in their homes or what have you. And Varda (the "Glaneuse" of the title) is a gleaner too. She gleans to make her films; it's an interesting comparison, the whole project mainly going back to the idea that somebody's trash really is somebody else's treasure.
I think this interview gets at why I enjoyed Glaneurs, because I feel like I'm being boring and blah and nonexpressive, like watery lettuce. Varda sees films as "cine-writing," putting together the whole package of a work, and this is evident in Glaneurs. I've seen and enjoyed her Cleo 5 à 7 but I think I'm going to queue up some more of her stuff and maybe be a bit more careful about food-buying and throwing out habits.

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