The film-maker becomes intrigued by one particular gleaner, Alain, who harvests all kinds of foods from the leftovers of street markets. She discovers that he has lived in a hostel for eight years and is an expert in nutrition. He eats as he gleans, and talks on film about the nutritional value of whatever he is collecting. We learn nothing of the events that have led to Alain’s homelessness. He seems to own little more than his clothes, and by conventional standards his life has not been a success. However we learn that he gives regular French lessons to the immigrants in his hostel. Towards the end of the film we see him teaching, not just competently, but with humour and insight.
Woven into ‘The Gleaners and I’ are the film-maker’s wry comments about her own ageing. She was 72 when the film was made and she clearly regards herself as an ageing gleaner. She films her own wrinkled hands rummaging in piles of junk and we see her retrieve a clock with no hands, which she places on a shelf in her home. The film is rather rambling, not quite ‘professional’ or polished. Yet it is a deeply human, spirited and moving documentary. Every single person is treated with respect, including the viewer, who is never told what to think. I wish religion could be more often like this playful, powerful film.