The film tracks a series of gleaners as they hunt for food, knicknacks, thrown away items, and personal connection. Varda travels the French countryside as well as the city to find and film not only field gleaners, but also urban gleaners and those connected to gleaners, including a wealthy restaurant owner whose ancestors were gleaners. The film spends time capturing the many aspects of gleaning and the many people who glean to survive.
"[T]rash can document the world as it is, but it can also open up a space for thinking in unabashedly utopian terms about the world as it might be. To say, as the GLF (Garbage Liberation Front) do, that “garbage is a lie” is to define it as the product of a false way of organizing and consuming the world. The trash collector is emblematic of the call to found an alternative relationship to trash: ragpickers, dumpster divers, and gleaners are figures who represent the possibility that people and things that have been tossed aside, neglected, or destroyed might be lovingly gathered back up and reincorporated within the social system that rejected them. The trash collector’s gesture of redemption implies a generosity that encounters with trash could teach the rest of us. At their most powerful, collectors, gleaners, and gatherers document the injustices produced within the present, and in so doing they create a space for us to dream ourselves into a better future. This is what trash collectors do: by foregrounding the alienating effects of our disposable culture, they mobilize and make use of the utopic energies buried within the trashy, the outmoded, the worn-out, and the cast-aside.” by Tina Kendall, Utopia Gleaners on alphabet-city.org