... Art in the Age of Global Consumption

Agnès Varda’s Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse
Ruth Cruickshank

IN HER 2000 FILM Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse, Agnès Varda, the “glaneuse” of her title, films people gleaning in urban and rural locations across France. The opening sequence of the film features a close-up of the page of the Larousse illustré that defines “glaneuse.” Here the camera dwells on the illustrations, reproductions of two nineteenth-century paintings representing women gathering ears of wheat left behind after harvest: JeanFrançois Millet’s Les Glaneurs (1857) and Jules Breton’s La Glaneuse (1877). Varda’s film goes on to show how what in the age of global consumption might be considered to be an anachronistic practice endures in diverse manifestations in France. Some subjects glean food from waste bins and at the end of markets. Others perpetuate traditions that permit the gathering of oysters scattered from beds after storms and spring tides, or pick fruit left in certain vineyards and orchards after harvest. Artist-gleaners ranging from a retired Russian stonemason to plastic artists transform discarded consumer products into unique aesthetic projects. Two sequences, “le glanage de l’an 2000 avec rap” and the “rap de récup’ des meubles,” feature clips of different modes of gleaning matched with rap soundtracks. And, between the potato fields and cities of the north and the apple orchards and towns of the south, Varda intermittently turns her digital camera on herself, filming her wrinkled hand, curving it into the shape of a camera lens, or is filmed using the hand to film. Thus she underpins her role as filmmaker-gleaner whilst contemplating a natural process of wasting: her own as an ageing subject. Paradoxically for a film whose premise is an activity practised by those who are excluded or choose to exclude themselves from the simultaneously wasteful, homogenizing and marginalizing discourses of global consumption, Les Glaneurs was a commercial success. Presented at the fifty-third International Festival at Cannes in May 2000 and aired first on Canal+ in a Friday night prime time slot that July, the film then played to packed salles and was a hit worldwide.1 It went on to harvest an impressive clutch of awards and generated an extraordinary response from viewers. They wrote to Varda in unprecedented numbers, recounting and sending her the fruits of their gleaning or gifts of artworks representing gleaners. This contact prompted Varda to make Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse… Deux ans après which was released on DVD with Les Glaneurs in 2002.2 Seeking to ‘give back’, in Deux ans après Varda intersperses eight sequences returning to some of the subjects of her 2000 film with others introducing respondents, further gleaners and aesthetic projects using gleaned materials. This footage is also cut with Varda’s reactions to the impact of her film and to the ongoing process of her own ageing.3 The success of Les Glaneurs coincided with the articulation in France of a convergence of concerns about the increasing impact of the systems of global consumption.4 Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après have also been situated in the context of the development of French documentary, which since the 1950s has been associated with an agenda of social activism.5 Varda’s films, however, evade any such characterization. She describes her filmmaking—both documentary and feature—as cinécriture: “En écriture c’est le style. Au cinéma, c’est le cinécriture.”6 Instead of the conventional separation of the roles of scriptwriter and director, this holistic ‘style’ encompasses the entire process of filmmaking: from script, location, casting, editing, soundtrack, lens and lighting to marketing material. If Varda uses writing as an analogy for her filmmaking, Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après also bring the plastic arts, photography and film into the picture. Indeed, whether deliberately or unwittingly, from the first frames of Les Glaneurs the reproductions of Millet and Breton’s representations of gleaning invite viewers to make connections with Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”7 Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après also intersect with subsequent critical thought such as that of Baudrillard, Derrida, Lyotard, and Deleuze and Guattari, influenced in different ways by the development of the global market and by the Frankfurt School.8 Rather than discarding Benjamin’s essay to focus on contemporary perspectives, and thus paralleling the processes Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après bring into question, this article explores how Varda’s representations of artworks and the art of gleaning in the age of global consumption intermittently intersect with questions raised by Benjamin. Benjamin’s essay analyses the impact of technical reproducibility on the potential of successive forms of cultural production. He argues that mass reproduction in high commodity culture has withered the “aura” of the artwork: its “presence” and authenticity, the time and space in which the viewer may contemplate and experience its unique affect. As increasingly ubiquitous contact forces individuals into mass subject positions, Benjamin fears the loss of critical capacity and of the potential for imagination and reflection. He identifies the advent of photography and film as the latest stages in the withering of aura. However, he also suggests that film has potential to democratize access to the artwork since “for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual” (Benjamin 218). Moreover, written on the eve of the Second World War, Benjamin considers the global ramifications of the subsuming of the artwork into the realm of politics. To avert the aestheticization of politics by Fascism, he argues that the newly democratized artwork should be harnessed to Communist revolutionary ends. The recurrent images of canonical artworks in Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après sometimes evoke Benjamin’s nostalgia for the past. Yet in the age of global consumption they and footage of a range of other forms of art and artfulness provide a means of exploring the enduring potential of products and (representational) practices that might otherwise be discarded as obsolete. Whilst Benjamin writes of the ramifications of the development of technologies of mass production, beginning with cave paintings, bronzes, woodcuts and culminating in the lithograph, photography, and film, Varda disrupts this apparently linear trajectory. Instead, she gleans fragments from different periods and genres—from old and new, from literature, cinema, photography, jazz and rap, and from street, classical, experimental, professional, and amateur art. After opening Les Glaneurs with reproductions of nineteenth-century paintings of gleaning, Varda films herself in the pose of Breton’s gleaner, standing alongside the original canvas in Arras. She also visits Millet’s Les Glaneurs in the Musée d’Orsay where, digital camera in hand, she records her visit in sped-up photography. Later, driving past a brocante, Varda stops and joyfully records a serendipitous trouvaille: a crude amalgam of both paintings. Repeatedly, but not systematically, the filmmaker establishes the link between gleaning and her own activity of gathering images. Les Glaneurs concludes with Varda attending the re-hanging of PierreEdmond Hédouin’s Les Glaneuses fuyant l’orage (1852), recuperated from a basement of the Musée de Villefranche sur Saône as a result of her film. On the one hand, that Millet’s painting of apparently harmonious agrarian economy is in the Musée d’Orsay (on loan from the Louvre), yet Hédouin’s less idealized representation languished unseen in a provincial museum basement, begs questions of the consumption of art, and of art as a mode of consumption.

On the other, the role of film in the re-instatement of the Hédouin canvas for public contemplation suggests that the artwork in the age of global consumption may still have enduring agency. This local success therefore brings into question Benjamin’s negative prognosis: “Today the cult value would seem to demand that the work of art remain hidden” (Benjamin 218). For, to use the mise en abyme of the gleaner as tableau vivant (Cooper 84), Varda brings traces of the representational practice of the past back, if not to life, to be productively integrated into the present. Throughout Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après the relationship between the enduring affect of the artwork and the potential of discarded consumer products is brought to the fore. For example, in Les Glaneurs contemporary plastic artist Louis Pons explains his conception of waste-based art as potential: “Pour les gens c’est un tas de saloperies, pour moi c’est une merveille, c’est un tas de possibilités.” Thus, if Baudrillard glumly states in La Société de consommation that consumer society produces waste because the market depends on the inbuilt obsolescence of products,9 Varda and the gleaners of her films suggest that obsolescence is not inevitable, and that what is automatically discarded as waste may still have value. However, no value judgements are made between nineteenth-century canvasses, the pastiche Varda happens upon in the brocante, or the gleaning of professional artists. Likewise, Varda films old photographs and postcards, includes footage of gleaners from a black and white Russian film Earth (Dovzhenko, 1930), and delights in Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronographs, an important step along the road to moving pictures. These (proto) celluloid images do not, as Benjamin warns, herald alienation and the complete loss of critical capacity. Instead, they make links to present cultural and representational practices that like Varda’s film resist being commodified, and may thus have revolutionary potential, though not in the dialectical mode envisaged by Benjamin. Rather, intersecting with Benjamin’s focus on the democratizing potential of film, Varda explores how traces of what is perceived to have been become obsolete may offer perspectives that counter the simultaneously homogenizing and marginalizing discourses of global consumption. Bringing such traces into play, Varda’s cinécriture resonates with the Derridean notion of écriture and the traces of past, present and future representations always already inscribed in all texts. Indeed, discussing how gleaning became the heart of her film, Varda talks of intuitive connections and slippage of meaning: Gleaning itself is not known—is forgotten. The word is passé. So I was intrigued by these people in the street picking food [sic]. 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.10 This track of chance encounters takes the filmmaker to gleaners including Charly, an old Vietnamese man sharing his ramshackle home and scavenged food with homeless African Salomon. And to Alain F., a former biologist who has elected to live off the fruit and vegetables left after markets, systematically gleaning them according to their nutrient value, and spends his evenings teaching French to immigrants in the basement of the hostel where he lives. In its intermittent, contingent nature such footage of urban subjects gleaning from necessity or for pleasure foregrounds the development in France of la récup’, underground movements that exemplify local attempts to subvert the totalizing discourses of global consumption. Varda records similar activities occurring in the countryside, frequently involving the waste of the industrie agroalimentaire. These chance encounters with gleaners intersect with Benjamin’s analysis of the chiffonnier—the rag-picker—simultaneously product of industrialization and extended metaphor for Baudelaire’s poetry and Benjamin’s own role as critic.11 In Varda’s cinematic gleaning that films the rural and urban gleaners of post-industrial France, la récup’ becomes a motif intermittently linking past, present and future, which in its provisional, local nature evades the recuperation of contestatory discourses by the global market. Given this emphasis on the intermittent, the creative and the contingent, it is not surprising that Varda rejects accounts that situate her film in the direct lineage of a perceived social activism of French documentary: “Filming, especially a documentary, is gleaning. Because you pick what you find […]. But, you cannot push the analogy further, because we don’t just film the leftovers” (Varda indieWire). Yet in her cinécriture very conscious artfulness converges with chance. Having noted that grapes are left to rot on Burgundian vines due to viticultural protectionism, Varda’s glee can be imagined when she happens upon the appositely named “Domaine de la folie” (now run by a descendant of Marey). Nonetheless, Varda also acknowledges her very deliberate construction of filmic narratives out of gleaned footage: “You know, thank God I try to be very clever in the editing room. But when I film, I try to be very instinctive. […] But then, when I do the editing, I’m strict, and trying to be structural, you know” (Varda indieWire). Of course, in her editing of Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après Varda does not intend to construct a totalizing narrative. Instead she juxtaposes and accumulates fragments that shed new light on Benjamin’s baleful contrasting of the “total” reality represented by the painter with “that of the cameraman [which] consists of multiple fragments which are assembled under a new law” (Benjamin 227). The insidious recuperation of gleaning by late capitalist culture is underpinned by deft juxtaposition of gleaned footage. France’s youngest ever Michelin-starred chef Édouard Loubet garnishes exquisite dishes with herbs from the countryside around his restaurant, literally performing how gleaning can be turned into the ultimate of consumer products. This sequence showing gleaning as luxury creates a stark comparison with the previous one featuring Claude M. sifting through piles of discarded supermarket food. Here, recalling earlier footage of mountains of misshapen potatoes and Varda’s voiceover noting how discarded tubers swiftly become health hazards, the gleaner is an expert in the dangerous art of assessing the life-giving or life-threatening potential of food dumped because past its sell by date. This food en marge de sécurité underpins how the system that produces such waste also produces the precarious situation of the gleaner. Elsewhere, comic juxtaposition draws attention to the contemporary flouting of legal and ethical precedent pertaining to gleaning. In one incongruous sequence, legal provisions for gleaning are articulated by a lawyer in full regalia in a cabbage field. A female lawyer, similarly clad, stands next to city-centre dustbins to cite a 1554 edict permitting the destitute to glean, then describes how laws still allow for the gleaning of tomatoes, cabbages, and cardoons. She also states that given that pleasure is a necessity, gleaning for pleasure is legal. As is la récup’, for discarded items have no lawful owner, so therefore cannot be stolen. In turn, the uneasy laughter generated by these sequences—and with it the risk of co-implication of both filmmaker and viewers—is juxtaposed with evidence of how such provisions are contravened by greed, misanthropy or protectionism. In the age of global consumption, then, the law of the market economy recuperates centuries-old measures to protect the disadvantaged. Throughout Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après Varda draws attention to the process of editing as a key component of her cinécriture, adding an implicitly critical perspective to the skills of Benjamin’s chiffonnier who “assemble[s] large-scale constructions out of the smallest and most precisely cut components.”12 Simultaneously cinécriture operates as a means of exploring the potential of digital technology and that of la récup’. These films avoid the commercial tropes of DV, instead maximising its potential to record both the unexpected and that which mainstream cultural production excludes. Forgetting to turn the camera off after filming in a vineyard, Varda inadvertently films the ground and the lens cap of her digital camera bobbing in and out of frame as she walks away. Rather than editing these images out, she gleans them, and names the sequence “la danse du bouchon de l’objectif,” setting it to an altosax jazz soundtrack. Where many documentary makers would leave such accidental footage on the cutting room floor, Varda draws attention to how what would habitually be perceived as waste may be viewed as a supplement with its own intrinsic value. Rather than literally treating it like dirt, Varda retains and prompts a reassessment of that which is normally left out of shot. Varda often appears in the diegetic space, filming with a digital camera, and in the opening sequences of Les Glaneurs the filmmaker’s voice over refers to the “effets magnifiques, strobosopiques, narcissiques” that digital technology offers. Indeed, Varda draws viewers’ attention both to DV and to more conventional filmmaking practices by including footage of her being filmed, being filmed filming, filming herself filming, filming her gleaning subjects, filming her own hand, and inadvertently filming. Where the mass media in the age of global consumption depend upon immediacy, a fantasy perpetuated either by eliding mediation or using it to create a ‘reality effect’, Varda’s mise-en-scène foregrounds her manipulation of the technology that allows her to gather and edit images. With this self-reflexivity, the presence of the Breton, Hédouin and Millet canvases, and visual references to old masters from Rembrandt to Van Gogh, Varda updates the question asked by Benjamin: “How does the cameraman compare to the painter?” (Benjamin 226). Making a link between the medium and the message, Varda’s artfully edited fragments invite a critical meditation on the potential—productive and exploitative—of new technologies in the age of global consumption. So too do commentaries on Varda’s use of the latest forms of technological reproducibility. In a recent article on American documentaries, Paul Arthur suggests that digital technology has led viewers to expect a “historicallygrounded, newly-democratized rhetorics of real-ness, tokens of immediacy whose perfect technological emblem is the DV camera.”13 However, Jake Wilson argues that whilst it is now frequently used by documentary and other low budget filmmakers, in 1999 “the use of DV was possibly novel enough to seem like a documentary in itself, a way of reducing the distance between Varda and the people she films.”14 Drawing attention to the haptic qualities of some of Varda’s images, Gay Hawkins suggests that when the filmmaker uses her digicam to dwell on her ageing hand or a knobbly potato, it functions “as a probing instrument rather than the screen as a canvas, dwelling on surface textures rather than offering a totalizing three-dimensional perspective.”15 Cooper argues that Varda uses DV technology to draw attention to the process of the recording of images in order to allow concentration on the subject rather than on aesthetic effect (Cooper 88). Whilst Varda describes the special effects which she could achieve with her digital camera, she does not use them to distort or disguise her subjects, but rather to challenge power relations. Thus Varda draws attention to the manipulation and the mediation of such “extraneous accessories as camera equipment, lighting machinery, staff assistants, etc.” (Benjamin 226). Benjamin argues that because they must exclude such ‘accessories’ filmmakers necessarily impose the viewpoint of the lens on viewers. Conversely, and self-reflexively, Varda foregrounds the filmmaker’s accessories and viewpoint both with her digital camera and with her hand. Plays of proximity and distance, syncopation and disjunction, frame filmmaking as an act of consumption, destabilizing the conventional power relations between filmmaker, subject and viewer. Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après also counter Benjamin’s suggestion that speed of the filmic narrative precludes critical contemplation: The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed […]. The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. (Benjamin 231) The editing of gleaned fragments, the repeated motifs of a knobbly heart-shaped potato and the filmmaker’s ageing hand, and the return to gleaners in Deux ans après invite rather than interrupt contemplation. This suggests that Varda seeks to encourage viewers to consider what potential agency is demonstrated in the artfulness and contingency of gleaning by individuals excluded (or who exclude themselves) from the homogenizing systems of global consumption. Varda’s use of digital technology is therefore not testimony to the filmmaker’s or the viewer’s critical capacity having been subsumed by developments in the technological reproducibility of the artwork. Nor is it another link in an ever more globalized market-driven chain. To be sure, the advent of DVD distribution has affected the process of filmmaking, with screenplays and cinematography increasingly catering to the experience of the spectator across big screen and DVD formats, and films being conceived with a view to segmentation into chapters, which leads Jean-Marie Frodon to perceive the transformation of film from “[le] statut de ‘service’ (immatériel) en ‘bien’.”16 However, Varda’s exploitation of the DVD format harnesses the latest development in what Benjamin identifies as the democratizing potential of film. Wittily and generously, in the DVD version of Les Glaneurs Varda offers Deux ans après as a “Super bonus.” Rather than a repackaged menu of waste footage, her gift is a new hour-long film which gives back to some of those who were featured in or responded to Les Glaneurs, mitigating the recuperation of the critical potential of these films by the market. Instead of using conventional marketing and distribution networks, Varda marks (and films) the release of Les Glaneurs on DVD by setting up shop opposite her own production house in the Rue Daguerre in Paris. Her shop window opens onto piles of misshapen potatoes, bushels of wheat and earthenware pots painted with scenes of gleaners. Amidst these symbols of gleaning are an Avid editing suite and a digital projector. In a mise-en-scène that is distinctly artisanale, Varda articulates the pleasure she derives from “playing shop.” At the same time, she foregrounds the modes of mechanical reproduction that enable her to operate as a filmmaker-gleaner. The productive potential of the juxtaposition of fragments is also reflected in footage of disconcerting yet mesmerising aesthetic projects such as a totem pole made from broken dolls. Such images suggest that although consumer products are discarded as waste they are not intrinsically obsolete, and so may be recuperated to aesthetic or subversive ends. Given the “constant, and enigmatic” use of mythology noted in Varda’s œuvre by Alison Smith,17 it is also possible that Varda makes intentional intertextual links to Roland Barthes’ Mythologies (1957).18 One way of interpreting the images of artworks made from discarded consumer products is to view them as a means of exposing the mythologizing sign systems of global consumption, revealing how they conceal empty promises predicated on waste. Moving beyond this structuralist mode of demystification, Varda’s footage evokes Derrida’s extension of LéviStrauss’s notion of bricolage to any discourse countering the Western false premise of a text having a heritage or a stable coherence, instead being bricoleur, always already part of a tissue of texts, made up of provisional, differing and deferring meanings. What is more, this cinematic gleaning also suggests that wasteful systems may be challenged. In a bleak field, whilst Claude M. gleans from tonnes of potatoes dumped because they do not make the standardized supermarket grade, Varda picks up an imperfectly heart-shaped potato. On a connotative level, this gesture is no doubt intended as a symbol for gleaning, for caring for the excluded and also, perhaps, for Varda’s evident affection for the gleaners she films. However, the potato also performs an anti-branding function. It appears intermittently in the top right hand of the screen, at once recalling and subverting the constant presence of a slick logo on a commercial TV channel. On the DVD release, unlike the simulacrum of a brand, the potato operates as a signifier, weaving textual links between the two films by flagging up the sequences of gleaners in Les Glaneurs who also appear in Deux ans après. Elsewhere this and other knobbly potatoes are featured in close-up: haptic images, fascinating in their unique imperfections and slow process of change and decomposition. They, like Varda’s time-worn hand, point to the natural process of ageing, contrasting with the artificial, uniform obsolescence built into consumer products. Moreover, as the potato degenerates, it germinates, providing hope of regeneration from what in the age of global consumption is discarded as waste.
If Varda does not discard her gleaner subjects like ephemeral consumer objects, she also resists the temptation of making her second film redemptive, for revisiting subjects does not entail providing the happy endings of so much market-driven cultural production. The sparks of a love affair between Claude M. and Ghislaine that flickered in Les Glaneurs have died out by Deux ans après. Although Claude is drinking less and has left the uncertainties of caravan living for a place in a hostel, Ghislaine has yet to find more stable accommodation. François, “l’homme aux bottes,” has spent time in a psychiatric ward, and has lost confidence in the ethic of living entirely off consumer waste he spoke of so passionately in Les Glaneurs. Charly is dead, leaving a disorientated Salomon to live in the back of a truck. Nonetheless, Varda concludes the film by returning to Alain F.’s “activité sous-sol”: his nocturnal teaching that, like a germinating potato, offers the potential of new growth underground. This conclusion suggests that by challenging value judgements about waste, exclusion and the cultural products and practices of the past, there is potential—albeit fragile and intermittent—for forms of interpersonal exchange beyond commercial transactions. Varda does not discard the artworks of her own (cinematographic) past, and in Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après, there are several intertextual links to Varda’s earlier films, feature and documentary. In 1981 she filmed the reclamation of discarded furniture from the streets in Documenteur. Questions of marginalization recall the 1985 feature Sans toit ni loi. Adopting aspects of documentary aesthetics, this film traces the inexorable steps towards the death of a homeless young woman Mona, whose body is discovered in a frozen vineyard which resembles those of Les Glaneurs. Albeit unconsciously according to Varda, close ups of her own ageing hand and their evocation of the imminence and immanence of her own death recall similar cinematography in Jacquot de Nantes (1990), her tribute to her late husband Jacques Demy. Other elements of self-portraiture parallel her film-portrait of Jane Birkin, Jane B. par Agnès V. (1987). Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après also make poignant intersections with Varda’s 1958 short, L’Opéra-Mouffe (Carnet de notes d’une femme enceinte), made during her first pregnancy. The film follows a heavily pregnant woman walking down the rue Mouffetard, and Varda describes the film’s genesis as an antidote to commercial filmmaking, as well as an expression of the ambiguity of the giving and living of life: Je venais de réaliser un film de commande, et pour me consoler, j’ai fait ce film. […] C’est une vision beaucoup plus physique, plus violente, pas du tout sentimentale, qui a permis à certains pères de comprendre ce que pouvait ressentir leur compagne […] parfois, certains d’entre nous tournent mal . . . On ne sait jamais ce que va devenir la vie qu’on porte.19 Varda juxtaposes sequences of scenes of lovemaking and of the misery of the socially excluded with the pregnant woman’s progress. These are interspersed with close ups of market stalls piled with skinned rabbits, offal, fruit and vegetables. A pumpkin is split open, and a bowl containing a chick smashed, so the potential of new lives and wasted lives is juxtaposed. These fragments are linked to a location that might be expected to operate as an unequivocal symbol of fertility, but which instead metonymically creates a problematic image of the material and libidinal economies of post-war France. Psychoanalytical interpretations are also invited by Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après, supplementing Benjamin’s suggestion that “the camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses” (Benjamin 230). Varda reveals that Jean Laplanche whom she first encountered in Les Glaneurs in his capacity as a winegrower is also a psychoanalyst of some renown. In the second film, Laplanche discusses with Varda how since his participation in Les Glaneurs he has begun to think of the therapeutic process as a mode of gleaning. Thus generating new perspectives on self/Other relationships, Varda’s intention is also perhaps to reveal the local potential for forms of exchange—material and interpersonal—that may exceed or evade the late capitalist economy of desire. Filming also appears to be a therapeutic process for Varda, as she interweaves her own experience of ageing and of gleaning, and hers is the only voice in voix off. Yet her voiceover marks the difference between her ageing and her pleasure in gleaning from the pain of an old woman painfully picking through broken eggs: “je n’oublie pas, pas du tout, qu’après les marchés il y en a qui font leur marché dans les déchets.” Thus for Cooper, Varda’s documentary ethic involves a privileging of others over the self (Cooper 89). However, as her liver-spotted hand mimics the lens of her camera capturing passing lorries on the motorway, Varda foregrounds images that link her aesthetic gleaning and the question of waste with her own self-portraiture and preoccupation with the passing of her life. She describes her film as a “petit documentaire d’art et essai,” and sometimes revels in the aesthetic qualities of what, for some gleaners, amounts to a matter of survival: “Et moi je vais promener ma petite caméra dans les choux en couleurs et autres végétaux qui me plaisent.” Indeed it could also be argued that Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après are undercut by an aestheticized focus on gleaning as art, or that they provide filmmaker and viewers alike a refuge from the suffering of the excluded, and thus recuperate it, rendering cultural producer and consumer complicit with the marginalizing mechanisms of global consumption. Or indeed that the eye of the filmmaker who frames the mould on her ceiling as an artwork—a tableau vivant rather than a nature morte—betrays the luxury of the comfortable cultural producer/consumer, or a twenty-first century incarnation of the nineteenth-century ideal of poetic alchemy. What is more, neither Les Glaneurs nor Deux ans après overtly addresses the impact of global consumption beyond their ostensibly Francocentric focus. However, on her website Varda presents these films as a form of resistance: “Chacun doit savoir qu’il est responsable de son voisin. Je crois beaucoup en l’engagement personnel. Par mon travail de cinéaste, je m’engage personnellement. Je suis une résistante!”20 These claims recall Sartrean engagement, begging the question of the situation and responsibility of the cultural producer in the age of global consumption. In the wake of the Second World War, Sartre’s commitment was a matter of action in the present, and one that rejected poetic discourse as an obstacle to communicating the implications of freedom and choice.21 In the age of global consumption, Varda’s films have a haunting poetry, and they link traces of the past with the present and, implicitly, the future. Nonetheless, if in Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après gleaning is envisaged as a mode of resistance, it is not an unproblematized return to agency. Varda does not idealistically assume that by filming them she can recuperate her subjects from marginalization. Indeed, to claim that these films make the “revolutionary demands in the politics of art” called for by Benjamin (212) would be to impute a symmetry and an agency that would betray the intermittent, fragmentary aesthetic and ethics of Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après. Varda’s conception of the agency of her films neither is dialectical nor does it match the homogenizing and marginalizing discourses of the market with a counter grand narrative that would invite recuperation by the system it seeks to resist: Je peux vous dire que ce film [Les Glaneurs] a circulé un peu partout en France et dans le monde entier. Il pose partout le même problème. Ce n’est pas celui de l’économie durable, du commerce équitable, c’est celui d’une société organisée autour du fric, “du plus gagné,” une surproduction, une surconsommation, sur-déchets donc gâchis. Les combats sont à tous les niveaux. On peut essayer de freiner “l’esquintage” systématique des ressources naturelles. On peut faire un document sur les archis-pauvres d’Afrique du Sud, d’Inde ou d’Amérique du Sud. Ce qui m’a intéressée c’est dire: “Voilà, je vis en France, c’est un pays civilisé, ‘culturé’, riche et il y a des gens qui vivent de nos poubelles!” Cela a secoué plus d’un Français.22 Locally, and through implicit yet performative contrast with the homogenizing and marginalizing systems of global consumption, Varda uses her footage of French gleaners to revalorize difference, and potentially to make a difference. The measurable effect of Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après is that viewers may contemplate (on the big screen or DVD) Hédouin’s re-instated Les Glaneuses fuyant l’orage alongside footage of all manner of gleaning practices and artworks, from the auratic to the mass (re)produced. As Benjamin analyses the potential of art—and film in particular—in the age of mechanical reproduction, he warns of the global consequences of the withering of aura in the gathering storm clouds of the Second World War. In the age of global consumption, Varda harnesses the latest technologies of reproducibility to present a diverse range of local, individual challenges to the chill winds of homogenization and marginalization. Les Glaneurs and Deux ans après counter Benjamin’s perception of film as “the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage” (Benjamin 215). Instead, Varda invites the contemplation of fragments of artfulness: past and present, needs driven, as a matter of principle or for pleasure. Thus, through the integration of traces of the past in the present and the editing and juxtaposition of fragmentary insights into the individual ethics and aesthetics of gleaners, viewers are invited to glean potentially critical perspectives from those who, in the age of global consumption, are routinely disregarded or discarded: Puisqu’on est dans une société de gâchis, il y a des gens qui vivent de ce qu’ils trouvent dans les poubelles. Parmi ceux-là, j’ai rencontré des gens formidables, qui ont une vision de la société. Ils ne sont pas misérabilistes, mais simplement miséreux. Ils ont compris que devant un tel gaspillage, il faut en profiter en quelque sorte, tout en denonçant ce que cela veut dire.

Royal Holloway, University of London

Notes
1. See Elizabeth Lequeret, “Le Bel Été de la glaneuse,” Cahiers du cinéma, 550 (2000), 32.
2. Available on DVD: Agnès Varda, Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse et Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse … Deux ans après (Ciné-Tamaris, 2000, 2002). 3. For Varda’s commentary on Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse and Deux ans après and stills from these and her other films, see http://www.chez.com/demy/Varda.htm.
4. See, for example, José Bové and François Dufour, Le Monde n’est pas une marchandise: des paysans contre la malbouffe (Paris: La Découverte & Syros, 2000), and François-Xavier Verschave, La Françafrique: le plus long scandale de la République (Paris: Stock, 1999). 5. See Sarah Cooper, Selfless Cinema?: Ethics and French Documentary (Oxford: Legenda, 2005).
6. For Varda’s full description, see Agnès Varda, Varda par Agnès (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1994), 14.
7. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, Hannah Arendt, ed., Harry Zohn, trans. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 211- 35.
8. For an analysis of Les Glaneurs from a Levinasian perspective, see Cooper, 84-90.
9. Jean Baudrillard, La Société de consommation (Paris: Denoël, 1970), 48-56.
10. Agnès Varda, “INTERVIEW: ‘Gleaning’ the Passion of Agnès Varda,” Andrea Meyer, indieWire, http://www.indiewire.com/people/int_Varda_Agnes_010308.html (accessed 24/01/07).
11. See Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, Harry Zohn, trans. (London: Verso, 1983).
12. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, trans. (Cambridge, MA and London: Belknap, 1999), 461.
13. Paul Arthur, “Extreme Makeover: The Changing Face of Documentary,” in Cineaste, 30
(2005), http://www.cineaste.com/parthur.html (accessed 24/01/07). 14. Jake Wilson, “Trash and Treasure: The Gleaners and I,” Senses of Cinema (2002), http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/02/23/gleaners.html (accessed 24/01/07).
15. Gay Hawkins, “Documentary Affect: Filming Rubbish,” Australian Humanities Review, 26 (2002), http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive/Issue-September-2002/hawkins.html (accessed 24/01/07).
16. Jean-Marie Frodon, “Agnès Varda, petite marchande d’images,” Le Monde (29 November 2002).
17. Alison Smith, Agnès Varda (Manchester: Manchester U P, 1998), 45. 18. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Seuil, 1957).
19. “Agnès Varda et ses documentaires,” Paris Cinéma, http://www.pariscinema.org/fr/2004/ endirect/varda.html (accessed 24/01/07). 20. Varda, “Deux ans après: fiche technique,” http://www.chez.com/demy/Varda.htm (accessed 24/01/07), quoting from Stéphane Gravier, “‘Visions sociales’: rencontre avec Agnès Varda, réalisatrice,” http://www.asmeg.org/index.php?template=article&ref=4&are-ref=2452
(accessed 08/07/07).
21. Jean-Paul Sartre, Situations II (Paris: Gallimard, 1948).
22. Varda, “Deux ans après: fiche technique.”
23. Varda, “Deux ans après: fiche technique.”


L'Esprit Créateur, Volume 47, Number 3, Fall 2007 , pp. 119-132 (Article)