Last week I killed two birds with one stone – got some French practice in while viewing an acclaimed documentary by Agnes Varda, “The Gleaners and I.” Though it was slow going and I found the first half pretty boring, eventually the meandering, off-the-beaten-path storytelling grew on me.
Gleaners are traditionally people who follow along after the harvest, picking up all the crops that have been missed by the reapers. Taking her inspiration/point of departure from the Jean-François Millet painting above, Varda went out in search of modern day gleaners – not only farm foragers but also trash pickers, junk refurbishers, upcyclers, and artists who find their raw materials on the streets. Between vignettes about these people, Varda added little interstitial bits of weirdness and whimsy – her hand making circles around distant trucks; a lens cap’s “dance” as the camera bumps along on an accidentally filmed walk; a robed judge standing in a field explaining property law. My neurotic brain is drawn to the meta, so the idea of Varda gleaning all her footage for odds and ends to throw into the mix was sort of delightful to me (even when not so delightful to watch).
The slow pace did make following along in French a lot easier. I tried to ignore the subtitles as much as possible, but I should have just turned them off. It’s so hard to avoid your eye wandering down to them even when you can understand most of what’s being said.
If I were really committed, I would rewatch the movie without subtitles and try to glean some new vocabulary now that I know the general story. 🙂
(Let’s face it, I’m not that committed – but I do still want to watch a couple of Varda’s other films that I’ve heard good things about: The Beaches of Agnès and Cleo from 5 to 7.)