Monday Night — 02.02.04 – women don’t lie — Agnes Varda — The Gleaners and I

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Monday Night — 02.02.04 – women don’t lie — Agnes Varda — The Gleaners and I
1. About this Monday
2. The Gleaners and I
3. About Agnes Varda
4. Interview: “Gleaning” the Passion of Agnes Varda
5. Agnes Varda’s 1’Ecriture Feminine
6. some few more links
7. About this Series : Women Don’t Lie
“Filming, especially a documentary, is gleaning. Because you pick what you find; you bend; you go around; you are curious; you try to find out where are things. But, you cannot push the analogy further, because we don’t just film the leftovers.”
1. About this Monday
What: les glaneurs et la glaneuse screening and casual discussion
When: Monday 7:30pm
Where: 16Beaver Street, 5th Floor
Who: All are invited
2. The Gleaners and I
A film by Agnès Varda
An intimate, picaresque inquiry into French life, as lived by the country’s poor and its provident, as well as by the film’s own director, Agnès Varda. The aesthetic, political and finally moral point of departure for Varda are gleaners, those individuals who pick at already-reaped fields for the odd potato, the leftover turnip, and in previous generations were immortalized by the likes of Millet and Van Gogh. Varda isn’t particularly interested in immortalizing today’s gleaners but in investigating the reasons that lead the anonymous (desperate and quixotic both) and the celebrated (including a famous chef) to sift through our detritus. Along her journey, Varda constructs a portrait of France that is every bit as modern as the digital camera with which she does her filming, and in the process comes up with her finest, most effective work since Vagabond.
[From the New York Film Festival catalogue].
3. About Agnes Varda
The energy and excitement that came in the wake of France’s liberation during World War Two led to calls for innovation and change in art and culture. Perhaps in no other medium was this appeal so powerfully registered as it was in the cinema. Young people imagined new ways of making films, and a movement eventually known as the French “New Wave” was born. Its principal members would include Frangois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and one woman: Agnes Varda.
Born in Brussels to a Greek father and a French mother, Agnes Varda and her family moved to Paris when she was fifteen. After high school, she studied literature at the Sorbonne and art history the Ecole de Louvre. A passionate admirer of the booming postwar French theater, Varda eventually became the official photographer for the Theatre Nationale Populaire in Paris. Throughout the 1950s, her work as a photographer, for the theater as well as for various magazines, allowed her to travel the world on assignments.
At 25, with no real knowledge of filmmaking, Varda decided to make her first film. LA POINTE COURTE (1956) juxtaposed the story of a young married couple with a portrait of struggling fishermen and their families in a small Mediterranean port. Often cited as the first New Wave feature film, LA POINTE COURTE modeled its intricate weaving of parallel narratives on William Faulkner’s Wild Palms . It greatly impressed several critics, but the film proved to be a financial disaster, and Varda would have to wait five years until she could make her next feature film.
Her second feature, CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962), was no less experimental in its approach. The story of a beautiful young singer anxiously awaiting the results of a medical test was shot in real time, creating a stunning interplay between documentary and fiction that would become something of a Varda trademark. Happily, this time both the critics and the public were ready for this new kind of cinema, and CLEO became an international hit, propelling Varda to the forefront of the international film scene. She followed this success with another. LE BONHEUR (1965) is the haunting tale of a young, happily married man who takes on a lover not despite his happiness but because of his happiness, unwittingly changing his life and those of his loved ones forever.
An artist dedicated to exploring all the possibilities of expression in filmmaking, Varda has throughout her career moved between feature films and shorts, documentary and fiction. Her engagement with the political movements of the 1960s led to her making documentaries on the Black Panthers and on the early feminist movement. Her 1969 film LION’S LOVE, a look at the fate of an avant-garde director who tries to make it in Hollywood, was a delightful spoof of her own experiences in America. On the other hand, her 1975 DAGUERROTYPES was a warm, endearing profile of her street in Paris.
Invited to make a film in celebration of the centennial of cinema, Varda delivered 101 NIGHTS (1995), a wry comedy in which an elderly director offers his own highly personal version of film history for an appreciative young film student. Cameos by actors ranging from Catherine Deneuve to Alain Delon to Marcello Mastroianni add to the fun.
Varda has also created a series of works on or about her late husband, fellow New Wave director Jacques Demy, such as the beautiful JACQUOT DE NANTES (1991), a touching portrait of Demy’s childhood years and his discovery of the cinema. THE GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT-25 YEARS LATER (1993) was an examination of the impact Demy’s film THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967) had on the town where it was filmed.
For many critics, Varda’s single finest work is 1985’s VAGABOND, the disturbing story of a young wanderer’s disappearance and death. Through dramatic sequences, interviews with those who knew her, anecdotes, and even observations by strangers, Varda pieces together her narrative, showing the complexity of a life that most people around her barely noticed. VAGABOND was awarded the Golden Lion at the 1985 Venice Film Festival, and Sandrine Bonnaire later won the French Cisar for Best Actress for her work in the film.
Now in her seventies, Varda continues to challenge herself and her audiences. Her most recent work, THE GLEANERS AND I (2000), was shot on digital video with a tiny camera largely operated by Varda herself. The film is a powerful and thought-provoking look at modern-day scavengers, those who live off what’s abandoned or thrown away by others — subtle rebels, Varda implies, for a society increasingly defined by conspicuous and often wasteful consumption.
There’s no telling where Agnes Varda’s instincts will lead her next, but one thing is for certain: she will continue to challenge our ideas about how films are made, what they might mean, as well as the relationship between art and life.
4. INTERVIEW: “Gleaning” the Passion of Agnes Varda: Agnes Varda
by Andrea Meyer/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/ 03.08.01) — The films of Agnes Varda are always infused with Agnes Varda — her reality, her thoughts, her voice, and her passions. Her fiction films — “La Pointe Courte” (1954), “Cléo from 5 to 7″(1961), “Le Bonheur” (1964), “Vagabond” (1985) — are great feminist works that experiment with subject and form like the best of the French New Wave. She was considered a precursor to the revered cinematic movement of Truffaut and Godard, and was clearly influential in tone and style. Varda is perhaps best known, however, for her talent as a documentarian, which enhanced both her fictional and non-fiction films. Even dramatic works like “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” (1976) serve as documents of their times — in this particular case, the feminist struggles of the ’60s and ’70s. Varda’s brilliance is most evident, however, in works like “Jacquot,” a portrait of her late husband, filmmaker Jacques Demy (“Umbrellas of Cherbourg”), “Vagabond,” and stunning shorts like “l’Opéra Mouffe” and “Salut les Cubains,” that utilize the skills she honed during her early years as a photojournalist.
For her latest documentary, “The Gleaners and I,” Varda turned her mini DV-camera on an old practice — foraging for wheat left after the harvest — to create a portrait of modern day “gleaners,” those hungry people who live on the leftovers the rest of us have discarded, and those, like herself, who create art of the images and materials they collect. This astounding film kicks off a three-week retrospective of Varda’s work at the Film Forum in New York. Andrea Meyer speaks with the legendary director about connecting with her audience, intuition, editing and cine-writing.
indieWIRE: Gleaning is such an unusual subject. I wonder what drew you to it as the topic for a documentary.
Agnès Varda: Gleaning itself is not known — is forgotten. The word is passé. So I was intrigued, by these people in the street picking food. And then I thought, what’s happening to the fields of wheat? Nothing is left in the fields of wheat. So I went to the potatoes, and I found these heart-shaped potatoes, and it made me feel good. Made me feel that I was on the right track.
iW: You put so much of yourself and your emotions into your films, it makes the audience put themselves into it.
Varda: Exactly. You know, that’s what I really want — to involve people. Each person. An audience is not a bunch. You know, it’s not “Audience.” For me it’s 100, 300, 500 people. It’s a way to meet her, meet him. It’s exaggerated, but, really, I give enough of myself, so they have to come to me. And they have to come to the people that I make them meet [in the film]. And I don’t think that we forget them. Because the people [I interview] are so unique, so generous — they know so much about society. They are not bitter, mean. They are generous. They are gray, anonymous — you know, humiliated people, in a way. In a way, they make us feel we have to be ashamed, not them. And, obviously, I put a lot of energy to make them look good, express clearly things, including the pain, the hassle, the difficulty to live, to eat. You know, we overeat all the time. Everybody does. And half of the world is starving.
iW: You seem to relish the experience of making the film?
Varda: Sometimes I’m touched to tears, you know. That one in the caravan [trailer] was painful. He lost a job, he lost a wife, he lost the kids. Then you feel like you should be silent, listening, and trying to be very small in the caravan. With a small camera, I try not to disturb the flow of his words. And then the editing, you see what you’ll do with it. And in the open markets, I was so moved. So painful to see old women, you know, having difficulties to bend — and coming out with one piece of food. And bending again to get another thing. You know, there is an old woman there? She goes into these eggs. Most of them are broken. She finds a box and ends up finding some not-broken eggs. When you know the price of an egg, you understand that she needs the money. She wouldn’t be doing this for half an hour to get six eggs. And so my heart was really hurt by that misery.
iW: How much of what you shot was planned?
Varda: Very little is planned. What is planned is to meet this one or this one. After looking for them, which took a lot of time. I didn’t have a list of gleaners handy. I had to find them.
iW: Gleaning becomes a metaphor for so many things, even filmmaking.
Varda: Yeah. It is true that filming, especially a documentary, is gleaning. Because you pick what you find; you bend; you go around; you are curious; you try to find out where are things. But, you cannot push the analogy further, because we don’t just film the leftovers. Even though there is some analogy about people that society pushes aside. But it’s too heavy an analogy.
iW: One of the other things that makes the film so appealing, like your other work, is that it’s as much about you as the people whose lives you document. You film yourself — your hands, your face, even the moldy spot on your ceiling.
Varda: I have two hands. One has a camera — the other one is acting, in a way. I love the idea that with these handheld cameras — these new numeric things — very light, but, on the other hand, very “macrophoto.” You know what is macro? You can approach things very near. I can, with one hand, film the other one. I like the idea that one hand would be always gleaning, the other one always filming. I like very much the idea of the hands. The hands are the tool of the gleaners, you know. Hands are the tool of the painter, the artist.
iW: I noticed that you have almost the same exact shots in Jacquot, only it is Jacques’ hair and hands. Those shots are so beautiful, so loaded with emotion.
Varda: When I did my own film, I thought I was just doing my self-portrait, in a way. Now, many viewers — and I’m glad you brought it up, because nobody did here — came to me and said, “It was so touching that, over the years, you reached the same shots that you did for Jacques: his hair, his eye, and then his arm. And his hand, with the little ring there.”
And they say, “In a way, it was like touching his hand of the film, over the years.” And when the man told me that, I cried. I had not realized it. You know, thank God I try to be very clever in the editing room. But when I film, I try to be very instinctive. Following my intuition — is that a word? Following my connection, my association of ideas and images. And how one thing goes to another. But then, when I do the editing, I’m strict, and trying to be structural, you know. And when he told me that, I never thought of it. But he said, “You did the same shots.”
I was so impressed, I cried. And he said, “I didn’t want to hurt you.” I said, “You don’t hurt me — you make me feel good.” I was crying, but he made me feel, oh, that I was joining [Jacques], you know, in some way. And I thought: Well, I’m glad I work by intuition. Because if I’d organized it, I wouldn’t like it so much. I understood that this is to be an artist, you know — because you work by intuition. You go to the right thing, to the right place, to the right image, with your own feelings.
iW: Following your intuition is also responsible for all your wonderful digressions in “Gleaners.”
Varda: It’s like a jazz concert. They take a theme, a famous theme. They play it all together as a chorus. And then the trumpet starts with a theme and does a number. And then, at the end of his solo, the theme comes back, and they go back to the chorus. And then the piano takes the theme again. The other one goes crazy, you know, then comes back to the theme and back to the chorus. I had the feeling my digressions were like this — a little fantasy; a little freedom of playing the music of things I feel, things I love. And come back to the theme: People live off of our leftovers. People feed themselves with what we throw [away]. And I say “we” because it’s you, it’s me — it’s everybody.
iW: What does this retrospective of your work mean to you?
Varda: Well, I’ll tell you. I had a retrospective at the MoMA; I had one at The American Cinematheque; I have one at The Walker Art Center of Minneapolis; in France I had one at The Cinematheque. Well, I’m getting older, and people start to put my films together.
iW: What do you think your films offer to people today?
Varda: Well, you have to tell me.
iW: That would be cheating. What do you think?
Varda: I would say energy. I would say love for filming, intuition. I mean, a woman working with her intuition and trying to be intelligent. It’s like a stream of feelings, intuition, and joy of discovering things. Finding beauty where it’s maybe not. Seeing. And, on the other hand, trying to be structural, organized; trying to be clever. And doing what I believe is cinécriture, what I always call cine-writing. Which is not a screenplay. Which is not only the narration words. It’s choosing the subject, choosing the place, the season, the crew, choosing the shots, the place, the lens, the light. Choosing your attitude towards people, towards actors. Then choosing the editing, the music. Choosing contemporary musicians. Choosing the tune of the mixing Choosing the publicity material, the press book, the poster. You know, it’s a handmade work of filmmaking — that I really believe. And I call that cine-writing.
I think, if a film is well-done, it’s well-written for me. Cine-written. So I fight for that. And even though I know that some screenplays can be beautifully made together with another director, and then another editor. I’ve seen films beautifully made that way. But the way I film is, I love to be responsible for the whole thing. I never work on other people’s projects, on other people’s screenplays. It’s modest, but I did my own work, trying to make it believable, touching. Try to be clever, bringing the audience to be intelligent. And I tell you — they do behave like an intelligent audience with me. They raise beautiful questions; they speak to me after the screenings; they tell me personal things — they want to be involved.
They tell me they are touched. This is a good feeling. It has nothing to do with the box office. I hope it does well, but it’s totally different. I’m happy when it works. You’ve seen “101 Nights” — it was a total flop. But when people speak about it and like it — fine. It doesn’t break my energy; it doesn’t make me feel like I’m a loser or anything. I had flops, I had success.
iW: This one is so beautiful, everyone’s going to love it.
Varda: I’m just on the road again. Going to be on the road — yeah. Free — trying to be free. Of what other people do; of success. You know, trying to be free of minor things. I feel very much on the road. Even though I live in a city, and I have a roof.
iW: A beautiful roof, I might add.
Varda: A rotten roof, I may add — but I fix it. Don’t you think it’s funny the way I say [the ceiling] could be a painting — that we could admire it in a museum? Yeah, anything could be art. Anything could be beauty. And let’s not be, “This is the ceiling rotted. And this is the museum.” The ceiling is rotten — it disturbs me, the leak. There is water coming — tack-tack-tack. But look, Why should I go in a museum and say: “Tapies is beautiful when I have this on [the ceiling]?” [In the film], I say, “my ceiling is a piece of art.” And that’s turning life into — You know, finding not only beauty — amusement, joy, fun. Finding fun where sometimes it’s just a bore; finding fun when it’s a burden. You can always make something look different. Which is a way of saying that I’m, in a way, protected from being unhappy. There is a big unhappiness in my life and big pain. And I’m protected, in a way. You know, I feel that even the dead people around me protect me. So I’m not too much entitled to complain.
5. Agnes Varda’s 1’Ecriture Feminine
Dunja Radosavljevic
In her essay on 1’ecriture feminine Ann Rossalind Jones compares and contrasts what several French feminists have to say on the subtle and the more dramatic differences between women and men. At one point she quotes Luce Irigaray, a feminist psychoanalyst, ” Woman has sex organs just about everywhere. She experiences pleasure almost everywhere…The geography of her pleasure is much more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is imagined in an imaginary system centered a bit too much on one and the same. She is infinitely other in herself. That is the reason she is called temperamental, incomprehensible, perturbed, capricious – not to mention her language in which “she” goes off in all directions and in which “he” is unable to discern the coherence of any meaning.” Further on the same essay, a quote from Helene Cixous, “Her [women’s] writing can only keep going…
Her language does not contain, it carries; it does not hold back, it makes possible.” This empathetic attentiveness, the ability to perceive and represent the world in a nurturing rather then dominating way, to discover multiplicity of paths, and to include in that journey the shear comprehensiveness of life by creating her own language, is precisely what filmmaker Agnes Varda embodied in her film The Gleaners and I. This film is clearly a woman’s film, not solely and primarily because of its chosen subject – gleaning, which in itself is traditionally performed by women and throughout the film is linked with the marginal, neglected and oppressed, all terms that can easily be applied to women, but because of its original approach to the subject matter and its interweaving of the personal realm with the outside world. Metaphorically speaking, doing away with boundaries and limits, both in documentary film language as well as in structure. One way Varda has tried to erase the established social and film codexes is by using the DV technology.
As the reviewer Johnathan Rosenbaum mentions, digital cameras place the director and its subjects on a more equal footing, creating almost a new democracy in documentary filmmaking, as opposed to the use of film technology which obviously posits a great deal of industry, ideology and politics between them. One can notice this democratic approach in the title of Varda‘s film, which directly translates to The Gleaners and the female gleaner, placing the director within the gleaning culture, whereas the English version gives somewhat of an erroneously sense that the director is a separate entity from the gleaning community (Rosenbaum).
Varda is very excited with her mini DV camera and the freedom it allows her. She can spontaneously and poetically play with it, allowing her childlike but equally wise curiosity to come through. She captures the passing trucks with the circles she makes with her hand, she examines and re-examines in great detail the potatoes she has gleaned, and when dealing with some personal and delicate issues, she places the camera on her desk, letting it be the only momentary witness to her intimate musings. As for the content of the film, which is closely related to its structure, one could say it’s a travelogue with a purpose. What Varda did was to start from where she believes all films originate – emotion. Gleaning, waste and trash are Varda’s passionate interests and she feels she has personally a lot to contribute to the discussion centering on those themes. However, her fascination is not an end to itself, but rather an initial spark for her meandering and inquisitive mind to take over. From that point, she herself gleans, and although to some it might seem in a haphazard manner, the freedom with which she travels has a strong anchor, and that is herself. She will seep all that she encounters through her own imagination, wisdom and experience, which crystallizes later as her voice-over narration. Agnes is a humanist and whatever topic she elaborates on has not only a human component to it, but is in itself humane.
Agnes is concerned about the state of the world, about our values, about the way people are changing, about the prospects for the future. Parallel to that, she is also interested in herself, and not in a solipsistic manner but an exploratory one. She discovers parts of herself, her emotional fluctuations, her fears, her vulnerability, right in front of the camera, without shame, justification or self-consciousness. She just looks, examines, concludes, changes, examines again. She posits herself almost as a scientific or artistic human model, to be seen, heard, discovered, accepted, loved. She lets that be seen in a wonderful moment in the film, when a gleaner shows her a heart-shaped potato and she cries out enthusiastically: “The heart, I want the heart!” But let’s start at the beginning, with Varda’s premise that the more modern a society, the less frugal its citizens. An overconsumption, an almost hysterical need for material accumulation, a distancing from nature, a distancing between human beings themselves, a general loss of appreciation for the breadth and depth of life.
All of these themes find a place in her film. Her main purpose seems to be to raise social consciousness of both her subjects and her audience. However her critique of modernity is subtle as she starts by interviewing subjects on the history of gleaning. The peasant woman on the field tells us that although being hard work, gleaning was also a fun, communal activity where women could connect, share and enjoy life. The stark contrast between that kind of traditional gleaning which was done in groups, and today’s practical disappearance of the practice, with very few individual gleaners remaining, provides a bleak image.
Continuing on, Varda introduces another topic – the ease with which production is accomplished today, creating excess “waste”, with the example of one production plant dumping 25 tons of non-standardized (read non-salable) potatoes per season. Moreover, factories seem to dump these perfectly edible food items in various obscure areas, without considering the possibility of donating them to some NGO, such as the Red Cross or any of the local food banks, or for that matter, having at least a regular dumping ground, where the locals could come and glean. The profit motive is clearly present, the social consciousness unfortunately not. Agnes is there to record it all. Modern times have also created the need for rapid change and non-stop availability of new products and services. As the former truck driver says, while he rummages through the local store garbage bins, finding perfectly edible items “They have to change the shelves”. —They”, being the store owners and production facilities, who, yearning consistently for higher profits, create inhuman work schedules, such as the 22h-hour work day that the former truck driver had to put in, in order to sustain this neurotic consumption chain. In those hard working conditions, the truck driver falters and turns to alcohol for that something extra to help him make it through the long day. Unfortunately, in the long run, that costs him his job and his drivers license, which is revoked as a result of drunk driving. And the circle is round.
Although personal responsibility is something Agnes is keen on inquiring about, one can’t ignore the overall effect of a society structured in a manner that values products over the people who produce or distribute them. The local cook that Agnes also interviewed introduced another valid point regarding this technology and production mania. While gleaning the herbs he needs for cooking in the local fields, he says, “I don’t want to buy refrigerated stuff from Italy that has been sitting somewhere for 3 weeks and then is sold when someone says it‘s ripe. ” Skeptical and realistic about what modernity brings, he relies on the local produce he can see and taste. The unusual man wearing green rubber boots echoes this by going even further and relying completely on gleaning for his livelihood, although he has a good paying job and could afford to be a part of the consumption culture.
He refuses, both in dress and action because of his moral sense of duty as a caring citizen. He criticizes modernity as bringing on this arbitrariness in decision-making as well as an atrophy of the senses. He gives an example by saying that people usually throw away things as soon as they are passed their expiration date, without using their senses to determine if the product is still edible. This way people purchase additional products when not needed. This idea of not discovering the true value of things on one’s own and blindly trusting someone else’s statements and judgments, whose interests might not coincide with yours, creates ultimately an environment where someone like the orchard owner can say such utter sexist remarks as, “This apple has nothing going for HER. It‘s like an ugly and stupid woman. Small and burnt. Commercial value – zero.” With this slapstick comment he represents the essence of the world problems we face today, that being the demonization of the OTHER.
At another point in the film Varda finds this man’s exact opposite – a psychiatrist whose sole healing approach centers on anti-ego psychology, more precisely on experiencing the world through the OTHER. Being also a winegrower, this man is an example of someone who decided to be involved in all steps of making wine, thereby remaining fully aware of the process, which almost symbolizes a dedication to remain in full contact with the complexity of life itself. Needless to say Varda approaches gleaners, both traditional and modern, favorably. She is genuinely interested in the complexity of their lives, thoughts and destinies, and thereby people openly speak to her as they would to an old friend. She particularly looks for humanity, where others would dare not œ in the marginal and disposed. She embodies the wise statement that a society is only as strong as its —weakest” members. In that weakness, she finds resilience and strength and achieves an almost redemptional quality interviewing.
Most of her subjects from the provinces are warm, spontaneous and generous, and do not suffer from the common urban maladies such as cynicism and pretentiousness. A couple charmingly shares with her how they met at a town/village dance, with the wife remembering the precise color of her husbands clothing, and he, having a much shorter memory span, is unable to reciprocate.
When interviewing others, especially gleaners at work, one notices that they don‘t stop what they are doing to talk to Agnes. Not being caught by the media spotlight, they simply continue to work while being filmed. In one of the more urban areas, Varda encounters two odd roommates who glean, a Chinese man and a black immigrant. One day, Salomon, the black man finds ample quantities of chicken and rabbit meat in the garbage, that the Chinese man later prepares. Observing the cooked food, Agnes charmingly comments that they might be eating it for a month. And a most surprising answer comes from the Chinese man: —Oh don‘t worry, we always find someone to share it with.” This generosity extends beyond food, they do the same with refrigerators or TV‘s that they glean and repair. They mentioned a woman next door and other neighbors who might need them. This particular scene is also touching because of the caring relationship, one can see exists, between the Chinese man and Salomon. It seems that they didn‘t know each other from before, and that the Chinese man accepted Salomon into his humble home when he needed it. What‘s more though, the Chinese man says that Salomon is free as a bird, he comes and goes as he pleases. This utter unconditional giving cannot but touch every viewer as we all crave to be accepted in that way. The freedom with which these urban gleaners live is something to be treasured.
Agnes, remaining open as she is throughout the film, serendipitously stumbles upon a similar story. At a local market, she notices a man with a blue bag, who comes every day and eats the leftover fruits and vegetables on the spot. Although peaking her interest, she does not approach him immediately, but comes day after day, speaking to him here and there, getting to know him indirectly through observation, leaving enough of a distance that allows him to keep his privacy and dignity. But, —The day he ate parsley, I approached him. —, says Agnes. What follows is a most unusual story. I am sure it is very difficult for most viewers to comprehend why a man who has a degree in biology would rummage through the trash, live in a shelter, and sell books and maps in front of the train station for living. Although the director never really elaborates on these issues, she shows us a truly inspiring aspect of this human being. In the shelter where he has lived for the past 7 years, every night from 6 to 9 p.m., this man teaches illiterate, mostly black, immigrants to read and write. Why I feel this is related to the previous story is because of the freedom and lack of imposed authority involved in both cases. Here, students can also come and go as they please, just like Salomon in the earlier segment. Varda gently edits the piece around the new words that the students are learning to pronounce and write that evening, on of them being nocturnal activity, which humorously enough is exactly what they and their teacher are engaged in. Life connects to learning and springs from it.
Nevertheless, Agnes does not limit herself only to the downtrodden and the castoff. She easily crosses both artistic and social lines. She seeks ingenious artists, both amateur and professional who in some way use gleaning as an inspiration for their work. She inquires about their motives, their intent. She does not compare and contrast them in a traditional sense, but places next to each other, people, ideas and images that in reality would never find a way to communicate to one another. She creates that bridge between —high‘ and —low” art.
For ex. she interviews an older man who gleans used dolls and other —trash” to create a large, totem-caste-like sculpture, and whose wife calls him an amateur claiming there are many better artists then him. Agnes immediately shows those other artists, whose work, although generally more accepted by society and exhibited in such places as the Museum of Contemporary Art, includes almost the same elements as those the old man used in building his structures. They basically originate from the same place, a human need to include everyday objects and experiences in the artistic expression. The only difference is the level of abstraction and intellectuality. And although those are valid notions in any creation, more often then not, they seem to take precedent over the more tactile, instinctual experiences that life and art have to offer.
I feel that Varda here indirectly speaks for all women, who belonging to the marginal, carry within themselves those qualities of —ripeness, practicality and livableness” that the writer Ursula Le Guin also contends (Colton). Agnes leaves the question open though and leaves the audience to ponder on why society in general continues to place value on one and not the other. As a writer Le Guin relies on a concept that is intrinsic to Varda‘s film, one of narrative being open-ended gathering of disparate elements, and not oriented toward a particular goal. She further elaborates her theory by saying that those disparate elemental building blocks are not characterized either by conflict or harmony, since their purpose is a continuous flow not a resolution or stasis (Wilson). And Agnes‘s flow < As I write this, sitting on a bench in the park on 66 F, soaking up the spring warmth for the first time after the long stretch of winter, I am constantly interrupted by children‘s screams, yells, laughter. As we speak, two families from the neighborhood have almost overtaken the bench I am sitting on, and I feel I can‘t concentrate. Thanks to Agnes, I stop, I pay attention to the here and now, I observe what the kids are doing, I listen to what they are saying, I give in to their world. And I flow. Just as Agnes, when encountering a flock of sheep on the road, I realize that these people and children are not actually blocking my path. They are a part of it is poetic, spacious, circular, divergent, convergent, delicate, direct.
She says, —I wanted to glean images as one jots down travel notes." And indeed she did. Without seemingly any sense of strain, she took us on the road with her, talking almost nonchalantly about this and that. There is, however, nothing simplistic about the themes she choose to tackle, and the effortless feeling one observes is based on Varda‘s inane ability to pick and engage the right subjects, and arrange poignant images so that she will achieve the effect she has set out for herself œ that of raising the awareness of the audience regarding many issues she deems crucial to humanity. This brings us to her editing style, which can be classified as loosely linear with various digressions. Her interview footage is sometimes elaborated through archival gleaning footage, and sometimes juxtaposed in a certain manner as to extract the particularly humorous or ironic aspect of the situation. Whether its placing the image of the teddy bear hanging on a laundry line right after a moment when the truck driver who has not seen his kids for two years, poignantly says, —I think of them every day, every day", or inserting scenes of a judge in his full gown reading the penal code on gleaning amongst a field of cabbages, or her quick editing style on the oyster gleaners who —knowledgeably" cite various quantities of oyster they are allowed to glean, one is, at times seriously, at times charmingly, faced with recurring moral and human relativity. In the case of a particularly controversial event, involving homeless youth, a local store and a lawsuit, Varda allows all parties to speak equally, and asks them common sense questions we ourselves would be inclined to, without at the end formulating a final analysis or personal judgment.
Although not instigating controversy directly, Varda‘s sole choice to do a documentary film on gleaning in today‘s society is subversive, as gleaning encompasses redistribution of goods and undermines conventional class distinctions and definitions of privilege (Rosenbaum). Further on, her use of rap music, which embodies at the same time an anger and pride, during the scenes of homeless and needy picking up the scraps, is a subtle remainder whose side Agnes is on. At really rare moments, she allows herself to move away from her —neutral" position, and comes outright and says, that people who don‘t allow gleaning on their properties are just snobbish and don‘t want to be nice. One of the elements that Varda uses in her film, which has become increasingly popular in documentary films, is the inclination to insert self-reflective moments among the — documentary" footage.
Varda seems to follow her intuitive, internal drive for more in-depth observation, when for example, she comes home after gleaning potatoes and spends extra time filming them close up, saying such tender words as one would to a child, —Je les ai encore regarde, encore filme…" Her need for deeper knowledge is insatiable, as is her ability to extract the abstract from the concrete. At times though, her comments become more somber, as she contemplates her own mortality and fear of being forgotten. After returning from her trip to Japan, she spends time getting reacquainted with her home, the plants that have died and the ones that have survived, browsing through all she has gleaned on her travels. She sits at her desk and we approach a moment that might give us a clue to the real reason Agnes is making this film. She says, —That is my project, to film my one hand with the other, to enter the horror of it all, its extraordinary. I feel as if I am an animal, more over an animal I don‘t know." She goes on to talk about discarded objects that have already had a life and energy in them, and how gleaning gives them a second chance. It seems that here she might be speaking of herself.
Being of old age, vulnerable and possibly a little forgotten, she yearns to be gleaned, to be given a second chance to feel useful and alive. Her connection with the gleaners, who are much closer to death and decay then the majority of the modern society, is possibly a way for her to find courage to face the coming days. Finally, her determination to see the painting Gleaners fleeing the storm in broad daylight, which is usually kept in the dusty museum archives, is her allegorical way of confronting the approaching death and therefore affirming life. This film has clearly shown us a woman‘s journey, which is not dramatically positioned, but is a rather subtle tour de force. Varda does not seem to reach enlightenment as a separate entity, as man has contended for centuries, but rather through connection and appreciation of others. She looks for answers outside of the system, allowing a new one to slowly emerge. In it, value is placed on gentleness, non-violence, non-competitiveness and appreciation of everyone‘s internal qualities. Agnes shows us with her example that more honest one is, the more vulnerable, and utterly human.
Bibliography Colton, Alyssa. Excerpt from —A Manifesto for a Feminist Narrative Poetic"
http://www.womenwriters.net/archives/coltoned1.htm 3/14/2003
Jones, Ann Rosalind. Writing The Body. http://webs.wofford.edu/hitchmoughasa/Writing.html. 3/14/2003
Rainer, Peter. Now, Voyeur.
Rosenbaum, Johnathan. Precious Leftovers http://www.chireader.com/movies/acrhives/2001/0105/010511.html. 2/25/2003 Wilson, Jake. Trash and Treasure: The Gleaners and I http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/02/23/gleaners.html 3/2/2003 Zietgeist Films. The Gleaners and I.
http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/current/gleaners/gleaners.html. 3/14/2003
6. some few more links
7. About this Series : Women Don't Lie !
Women Don't Lie !
les femmes ne se trouvent pas !
Frauen liegen nicht !