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« Blueprints: "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" | Main | Links »
Thursday
Nov022017

Honorary Oscars: Agnès Varda's "The Gleaners & I"

We will be revisiting work from this year's Honorary Oscar winners. Here's Chris on Agnès Varda...

Agnès Varda is getting some long-overdue recognition this year. With prominent profiles being written with the coming of her Honorary Oscar and the release of her documentary with photographer JR Faces Places, you could practically call her a cineaste’s It Girl. While this recent film is earning her new fans enamored with her unique point of view, they will find something equally as layered and holistic in 2000’s The Gleaners and I.

The documentary begins as a study of modern day gleaning, the ancient practice of searching harvested fields for leftover crops - but it quickly becomes so much more...

She touches on homelessness, the industrialized food complex, aging, finding meaning in the abandoned. Navigating through bureaucracy that becomes increasingly unfeeling to human need, the film handles the individual and the global with equal curiosity while trusting the audience to draw their own conclusions about the implications of the modern industrialization being depicted. As Varda is prone to do, the author herself becomes the focus at times, reminding us that the subject demands our own personal investment and reflection.

Upon experiencing Gleaners, the first question you might ask yourself is “How the hell is she able to successfully do so many things at once?” The intellectual and spiritual breadth of Gleaners is astounding, threading together seemingly disparate elements without sacrificing their individual importance. It rewards multiple viewings simply for how much Varda give you to think about. Varda herself is exhaustive on an etymological level, mining both the various ways gleaning is done both as a practice and as a metaphor. She studies her hands as if they were a tilled earth, her experiences and encounters the crops that have sustained her. Maybe something remains that might be useful to someone else.

A second question you might ask is “How am I not exhausted?” What sounds like a depressing marathon is ultimately a quite invigorating sprint that also appreciates the view. With enough patience to take in its full complexity, Varda somehow manages to allow room for the full weight of the psychological and sociological impact of her subject to sink in without making for a crushing experience. She makes you feel motivated, more engaged with the world around you than before the film began. In Gleaners, she provides constant entry points for reexamining the world and creating positive change without ever telling you what to think or what to do. And, most importantly, encourages your thought to include the global, the communal, and the personal.

In that regard, she is a hero for our times.

The Gleaners and I is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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