Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Gleaners And I: A Personal Confession

I am a gleaner.

No, I am not found in fields after harvest, picking through the leftover fruit for what I can eat or share with others. I am a gleaner in the sense that Agnes Varda, the filmmaker of the film, The Gleaners and I, defines it in the course of her film.

Here's a pic of Agnes Varda:

She gives a dictionary definition of "gleaners" at the beginning of her film, but she broadens that definition, first subtlety, and then obviously throughout the film. In the end, her definition of "gleaner" might be rendered: "Someone who takes what was discarded and gives it use."

First, she shows us the famous painting of The Gleaners by Jean Millet. See, here it is:

And she talks about modern day gleaners. People who harvest potatoes after the farmers have collected all they could. People who harvest grapes after vineyards were shut down (but not working vineyards in Burgundy, because that's illegal now). People who collect food from trash bins or from markets after they are closed. But also people who collect trash and make it art. People who find televisions and dolls and pieces of metal that have been discarded and find new use for them, if only for scrap.

Different gleaners do their gleaning for different reasons. Some do it for survival. Some do it for charity. Some glean for environmental reasons. Some glean for fun. Yes, fun. Because it's fun to glean. Taking what others think is useless and making it useful is creative and enjoyable. And when you glean, the sky is the limit for what you might find. Today, in my gleaning, I found 30 lbs of frozen kale, some fried chicken, an office chair with a drip of Pepsi syrup on it, some floor cleaner, a lot of burritos, radishes, folded paper towels amidst much more. Then I had the task of figuring out what I would do with all of this. The best part is to take a whole variety of food from different places and create a meal out of who-knows-what-you-will-get. If you make a delicious, nutritious meal from whatever you find, then your day was successful.

But the ultimate gleaner in The Gleaners and I is "I", Agnes Verdes herself. Let's look at her again:

She's beautiful, isn't she? The wheat she's carrying she didn't glean. She's just feeling her way through the painting above. She does do some gleaning in the film. Here's some heart potatoes she found and took home:

Her touch is all over the film. She speaks the narrative, and, like any older person, sometimes is distracted by the thing around her and she just rambles for a bit. Here she is trying to catch a truck:

But she doesn't glean wheat, or trucks (although she tries). Rather, she gleans people. People, some of whom are discarded by society, and she collects them and places them within her art. However, this isn't a sad film. Rather, it is full of joy. Instead of seeing lives of depression or injustice, she finds the joy in redemption. Much like the wonderful Finnish film, The Man Without A Past, the film could have been full of sorrow or guilt, but instead it has wry humor and personality and joy.

In this way, I, too am a gleaner. I am a modern gleaner, to be sure. I pay dues at a gleaning community service, which collects food and products that cannot be sold at supermarkets anymore and I go through their warehouse for a nominal fee and collect hundreds of pounds of food and miscelanious items to give it to the poor and homeless. I go to people who run food trucks and collect the food that could not be sold. I jump in dumpsters and find items that grocery stores couldn't sell. But more importantly, I take the discarded people of our society and tell them they are important, give them work to do and care for them. Sometimes they find homes and work. Sometimes they don't. But they are now gathered into a single community, helping and supporting each other to live better lives than they could have lived apart. Some of these folks live in my home now.

Anawim is a gleaner. I feel really connected to Agnes Verda now. That's pretty cool.

I'm giving the movie a 4.5/5

If you want to know more about Anawim, my organization, check out:
Nowhere To Lay His Head

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