Treasures Left Behind

THE GLEANERS AND I, (aka LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE), director Agnes Varda, 2000. ©Zeitgeist Films/

As of late a lot of my friends are purging themselves of records, books, movies and more. I’ve been the happy recipient of these spoils and, as best I can, I have been trying to give these items a good home. Something in this act reminds me of The Gleaners and I (2000) – a documentary by Agnès Varda about people who make their living sifting through that which has been discarded by others. Varda, who made her first film at the age of 26 (La Pointe Courte, 1955) and whose work was essential to the French New Wave, was the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d’or two years ago. Her work is infused with a deep intellect that is kind, ruminative and open to experimentation.

The Gleaners and I marked the first time Varda shot a movie using digital cameras. That was an era that heralded the beginning of the end for films shot on film and projected on film. The Celebration(1998) had already come out two years earlier and created quite a fuss with its bold approach and kinetic energy. In the case of The Celebration, the smaller digital cameras provided liberty of motion to dizzying and dramatic effect that veered perfectly from one dysfunctional family firework to the next. It also looked dark, muddy or murky (choose your adjective) as digital cinema still had a way to go, but at that time these “shot on digital” movies were still being transferred to film, and being projected on film, which added both the granular sparkle inherent to the medium, along with true dark intermittent blacks courtesy of the projector’s shutter. The movie magic was still alive and touching some strange part of our collective audience brain.


Other than that shared moment of history, The Gleaners and I has little in common with The Celebration. Varda’s subject matter and approach are diametrically opposite to Vinterberg’s material: instead of focusing on the wealthy, she focuses on the poor, instead of distracting the viewer with fancy camera movements, she calls attention to the camera and its operator. One of the many rewards to The Gleaners and I comes with Varda’s realization that she is as much of a gleaner as the gleaners themselves, only in her case what she is collecting are recorded moments. At this point I would like to add one other note in saying simply that, although – yes – I’m a film hugger and “analog boyfriend” (as my girlfriend refers to me), The Gleaners and I can be watched on FilmStruck and an iPad and deliver the full cornucopia of magic that is Varda. Consider this excerpt written by Roger Ebert (May 11, 2001):

“My hair and my hands keep telling me that the end is near,” she confides at one point, speaking confidentially to us as the narrator. She told her friend Howie Movshovitz, the critic from Boulder, Colo., how she had to film and narrate some scenes while she was entirely alone because they were so personal. In 1993 she directed “Jacquot de Nantes,” the story of her late husband, and now this is her story of herself, a woman whose life has consisted of moving through the world with the tools of her trade, finding what is worth treasuring.

I’m sorry, but there’s simply nothing left for me to say that can improve on that last sentence, other than to reaffirm that any caring human being should watch this documentary by the wonderful and singular Agnès Varda.


FilmStruck is offering an entire theme dedicated to her career, see The Masters: Agnès Varda to learn more.

Pablo Kjolseth

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