To call The Gleaners and I a documentary film would be doing it disservice. It certainly captures different aspects of gleaning and interviews dozens of gleaners themselves, but the film is so experimental and so personal that it evolves beyond documentary into something…different. It’s hilarious and endearing and tragic and heartbreaking.
And it’s all of this because of the way Agnes Varda injects herself into her film, not in a conventional sense where you can see her in interviews, but in a hilarious, abstract way, like when she pinches at semi trucks on a highway, or when she films an empty-field with her lens cap dancing off. Varda is both director and star of her own story but doesn’t distract from the attention of her subject, the gleaners, the people who find a living rummaging through leftovers of others.
But most importantly, Varda doesn’t denigrate the gleaners, many of whom are It’actually doing something that is a major nuisance and often times can be illegal. There’s a humanistic quality that shines through her work, that while she herself may think gleaners are a nuisance, she wants to portray them first and foremost as humans.
It’s an unconventional doc by any stretch of the imagination, but its worth watching to see how a doc can be experimented and expanded upon beyond its current format.