The Gleaners and I

Linda Williams is professor in the Departments of Film and Media and Rhetoric at UC Berkeley

(Les glaneurs et la glaneuse). Gleaning has meanings both literal, to gather grain left behind by reapers (the subject of nineteenth-century French paintings like Millet's famed Les glaneuses), and metaphorical, to collect bit by bit. Varda's rumination on this art of “living off the leftovers of others” finds inspiration in both past and present, rural and urban, the political and the highly personal. Camera in hand, Varda moves from the highways and back roads of France to its urban alleyways, interviewing those for whom gleaning is a way of life, or an encompassing philosophy. For some, gleaning is a means to an end, like finding still-edible food in fields or restaurant trashcans; for others, using only what others throw away is a rebellion against consumer culture. “A wandering-road documentary” is how Varda termed the project; Jonathan Rosenbaum in The Chicago Reader was more effusive, calling it “beautiful, absorbing, and touching
. . . a mind-bending experience not to be missed.”

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