The Gleaners and I is an amazing and entertaining diary-like documentary by Agnes Varda about people who glean, collect, salvage and retrieve things that have been left behind, forgotten or discarded.
Varda, a French director of many fine films, starts the film by following people who glean potatoes that have been left after the farmers' harvest. From there she gives a brief history of gleaning - a practice that has been done by all types and classes of people for centuries – and shows us some of the famous art work that has depicted gleaners through the centuries. Then she goes north and follows people who glean grapes from vineyards and other assortments of agricultural.
Not content with a narrow definition of gleaning she soon expands her enquiry to people who collect old junk and other such found knick-knacks, which are made into art. She meets an assortment of characters from a guy who only eats out of trashcans to a guy who peruses the farmer's markets and eats all of the discarded apples, fruits and vegetables he can find.
One of the merits that make The Gleaners and I so wonderful is that Varda includes herself along with funny, idiosyncratic observations within the narrative. In this way she gleans images and ideas along the road, in the villages and cities. A few times she completely changes gears and gets introspective: for instance she'll looks down and notice the ageing lines on her hands or she'll note the graying of her hair.
Varda, along with three or four other camera operators, shot the documentary on digital video and it seems that what started as a mere hobby became a full feature length project. Varda lets the people talk and be themselves. She never condescends or judges the people in front of the camera. Nor does she put them on display to be laughed at as directors such as Michael Moore often do. There is a very appealing humanity to the film.
Since this documentary is shot in video it's safe to say that nothing has been lost in the transfer. The image presented in 1.33 to 1 looks clear and clean. Anything out of focus or lacking in color or contrast can only be blamed on the digital camera that director Agnes Varda was using. And it seems she used a very good camera.
There is no information on the audio but it seems to be presented in mono. It sounds much better than home movies do so most likely microphones or booms were used to get the numerous interviews throughout the film.
The best extra on the DVD is a sequel to The Gleaners and I titled The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later. The film is more than just a return to the people in the first documentary. In it she starts by noting all the awards the film won and then showing us all the positive mail that she received regarding the film's success. From there she goes to visit a good number of the people who sent her fan mail: Including one couple who sent her a plane ticket to fly and visit their home, which is decked out with gleaned objects. Other extras include Production notes by Agnes Varda and A complete Varda filmography. The inside of the DVD jacket contains liner notes by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. There are 22 chapters and the film is presented in French with English subtitles.
Exceptionally well made and chalk full of interesting anecdotes and facts about people who glean The Gleaners and I is not to be missed by anyone who enjoys documentaries. The DVD looks great and is also worth picking up just for the extra hour long documentary that serves as a sequel of sorts. Glean your own copy on DVD today.