'In the Name of the Land' ('Au nom de la terre'): Film Review

Courtesy of Nord Ouest Films
A solemn true story of agricultural strife.

French director Edouard Bergeon's debut drama stars Guillaume Canet as a farmer struggling to stay afloat in desperate times.

There has been a recent wave of French movies best described as a cinéma du mal de terre — “a cinema of land sickness” depicting the hardships faced by farmers in an aggressively globalized market. Films like the bovine thriller Bloody Milk (Petit paysan), where a rancher tries to save his cows from a deadly disease; Toril, where a farmer turns to dealing drugs in order to scrape by; and Last Winter (L’Hiver dernier), where a young man painfully inherits the family land, have, along with a slew of recent documentaries, tackled the subject from intriguingly different angles.

The latest addition to the genre, In the Name of the Land (Au nom de la terre), is an intimate, and increasingly desperate, family drama set against a similar backdrop of agricultural strife. It’s also an extremely personal endeavor for first-time feature director Edouard Bergeon, who tells the story of his own father — a proud paysan who struggled for decades to keep his business alive and paid a high price for doing so.

Starring Guillaume Canet in a convincingly well-worn performance, Land portrays the downward spiral of Pierre Jarjeau, a man of the terroir who takes over the farm from his cruel and unforgiving father, Jacques (Rufus). Rather than letting his son inherit the property, Jacques forces him to buy it off him with a bank loan. In the ensuing years, Pierre is bled dry as he tries to make ends meet and pay off the mounting debt, expanding the business to turn more profit while avoiding a takeover by conglomerates who are swallowing up everyone else in the area.

The script, written by Bergeon, Bruno Ulmer and Emmanuel Courco, delves into some of the nitty-gritty of grain pricing and chicken raising, as well as the fact that traditional farming practices are gradually being supplanted by technology. But for the most part, this is a family story where we see Pierre, his wife, Claire (Veerle Batens, The Broken Circle Breakdown), and his son, Thomas (Anthony Bajon, The Prayer), brought together and torn apart by the property that binds them. There are plenty of conflicts — between Pierre and his father, between Pierre and his wife, between Pierre and the corporations — although the main battle seems to be between Pierre and his own refusal to let go of the fields he was raised on.

As time passes, Pierre loses a few too many battles to keep track of, plunging into a severe depression with no foreseeable way out. This makes the third act a bit too somber and monotone compared with what preceded it — especially since the ultimate outcome, although not to be spoiled here, will already be known by many French viewers following all the publicity Bergeon’s tale has received in the media. (Land raked in close to 500,000 admissions in its first week and looks to be a local hit.)

Canet (Sink or Swim, Non-Fiction, whose acting talents are sometimes underestimated, digs deep into a role that reveals how a well-meaning, hardworking man like Pierre can be gradually broken down by an onslaught of personal and professional setbacks. When we first meet him in the late 1970s, he’s fresh from a trip to a cattle ranch in the U.S. and filled with pride, hope and ambition. Twenty years later, he’s but a shadow of the cowboy he once was, and even his favorite John Denver song (“Rocky Mountain High”) can’t save him from the abyss he’s fallen into.

Supporting players, including the excellent Bajon as a young man caught between filial loyalty and his desire to break out of the family mold, are strong, and Bergeon shows a knack for coaxing naturalistic performances out of his cast. Cinematography by Eric Dumont (At War, The Measure of a Man) also leans toward the natural, emphasizing both the harshness and beauty of the landscape. (The film was shot in the Mayenne region, about three hours west of Paris.) Music by Thomas Dappelo hits a few too many dour notes, but then again this true story is a real tragedy.        

Production companies: Nord-Ouest Films, France 2 Cinéma, Artemis Productions, Caneo Films
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Veerle Baetens, Anthony Bajon, Rufus, Samir Guesmi
Director: Edouard Bergeon
Screenwriters: Edouard Bergeon, Bruno Ulmer, Emmanuel Courcol
Producers: Christophe Rossignon, Philip Boëffard
Executive producer: Eve François-Machuel
Director of photography: Eric Dumont
Production designer: Pascal Le Guellec
Costume designer: Ariane Daurat
Composer: Thomas Dappelo
Editor: Luc Golfin
Casting director: Gigi Akoka
Sales: Wild Bunch

In French
103 minutes