With an infectious curiosity, director Agnès Varda explores the world of scavenging, salvaging, recouping and recycling. Using Millet’s 19th century painting of women gleaning in wheat fields as inspiration, she turns her digital lens on people who supplement their lifestyles by rifling through market refuse or digging around in potato fields. She meets people who glean their food because of necessity and those who do it on ethical grounds. Others glean materials to recycle into art. Along the way, Varda’s film becomes its own form of gleaning as she repurposes her footage and observations to form a rich, cinematic mosaic of life.
Varda, a beloved grandmother of French cinema (“Cleo From 5 to 7”), is liberated by her new handheld camera in this award-winning documentary. We learn that gleaning fruits and vegetables is protected by the French constitution, and Varda impishly consults judges on the laws governing proper practice. She follows the impecunious “pickers” who find bounty in produce deemed too misshapen for commercial sale, and consults with a chef who resists consumerism and waste. With joy and levity, but also profound introspection, her film finds beauty in life’s leftovers, whether it’s a heart-shaped potato or a clock without hands.