Director Edouard Bergeon‘s feature debut In the Name of the Land, is based on his own father’s life.
In 1979, Pierre returns from working on a ranch in Wyoming, to take over the family farm in France. His curmudgeonly father, Jacques, has mixed feelings about letting go, retaining the leasehold on most of the land.
Nearly twenty years later, Pierre has married Claire, and they and their two children are struggling to run a diverse farm, while Claire continues her job as an accountant.
Although this sounds rather like a dramatized documentary, it is far from it. Bergeon and his co-writers have managed to deliver a screenplay of depth and delicacy. The highs and lows of farming are laid bare without false sentimentality. Yet underneath the struggles with chicken feed and harvesters are the relationships: Jacques’s refusal to give Pierre the approval he craves; Pierre and Claire’s passionate but strained marriage; and Pierre’s connection with his children, particularly Thomas, who is studying agricultural engineering.
Guillaume Canet is at the heart of this film, giving a career-defining performance as Pierre. Himself a country boy and horseman, he brings an authenticity to the role: but more than that, he brings truth. Veteran actor Rufus tackles the difficult role of Jacques, evoking empathy for a seemingly unlikeable character. Belgian actor Veerle Baetens gives a beautifully measured performance as Claire, never allowing her to become merely “the farmer’s wife”. Anthony Bajon delivers a moving performance as Thomas.
Bergeon has certainly gathered a dream ensemble of actors, but it is his deft directorial hand which guides this work to being the quiet masterpiece that it is.
This is a surprisingly moving and emotional work which, despite its quotidian subject matter, has an emotional tension that never lets up.
In the Name of the Land opens this Thursday at Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect.