Film Movement Movie Review: The Sower (2017)

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After a man claims he's so hungry that he feels like he hasn't eaten in three days, Violette (Pauline Burlet) waits a mere moment to respond.

"It's the altitude," she tells him and the unexpected response just hangs in the air, as if to imply that that's the reason why the occupants of the small French farming community in director Marine Francen's The Sower are so ravenous.

Discovering in a startling opening sequence that time and circumstance has also played an overwhelming role, with the men of the village rounded up and arrested after Napoleon dissolves the republic in December of 1851, the women and children are left behind to fend for themselves.

Watching as some of Violette's devastated neighbors retreat to their beds and her best friend burns her wedding dress in mourning for the event she fears will never come, gradually with time, the women come together in order to carry on, tending to the land in a way that gives them both purpose and a place to work out their pain.

Intriguingly, although they still miss men in a variety of ways from their help with the harvest to unbridled lust, the men's absence inspires the now more independently minded younger women to talk openly about sex and — perhaps heady from the altitude — grow increasingly amorous in the process. Yearning to not only make love but get pregnant and start a family, they decide to make a pact.

Viewing themselves as separate from the older women with children to raise and comfort, The Sower's younger set vows that if a man ever crosses their path and wants one of the women, he would get the rest as well in the hopes of bringing more babies into the world.

Not bothering to consider practical issues including the man or woman's feelings about all this or what would happen if the men of the village ever came back, knowing that their "daughters are talking nonsense," the older women stay quiet and let them have their fantasy regardless.

Their ardent desire somewhat abated by the fairy tale they've concocted, things go back to normal for the women until one day when — backlit by the colors of an altitude-enhanced clear blue sky — a handsome blacksmith (Alban Lenoir) wanders into the village and is instantly drawn to the virginal Violette.

The only literate female in the community at the time, although their relationship begins tentatively as she opens a home to the visitor, works with him in the fields, and brings him dinner every night, once the two bond over their love of literature, their relationship blossoms into a tender romance.

Based upon Violette Ailhaud's opus L'homme semence or The Seed Man which was written in 1919 and published in 2006, fittingly, given its themes, the thirty-eight page story that gave birth to The Sower was created explicitly for and willed to the author’s future female descendants.

Treating the source material less like a source of erotic titillation and more as a feminist minded work written ahead of its time, director Marine Francen (along with her co-writers Jacqueline Surchat and Jacques Fieschi) opt for a naturally romantic yet undeniably dramatic approach as Violette is pressured to hold up her end of the women's sexual bargain.

With minimal artificial light evident in its contrast between days spent in blindingly bright fields and the film's intimate, dusky nights, the gorgeously rendered visuals — reminiscent of paintings from the Napoleonic era — are brought exquisitely to life by cinematographer Alain Duplantier.

On the surface, a straightforward tale simply told, given the complexity of its female-centric themes and sensual nature, The Sower begs to be compared and contrasted with Like Water for Chocolate, Belle Epoque, and Raise the Red Lantern. Likewise, the allegorical references to the harvest and the double meaning therein strongly recalls the fellow female directed award-winner, Antonia's Line and the 1995 film from Marleen Gorris would make for a potent double feature with Francen's debut work.

Yet although The Sower doesn't have nearly as much character development as the other movies mentioned (particularly with regard to the supporting players), Francen feeds the ravenous film by sprinkling seeds of beauty, independence, feminism, and romance throughout.

Seduced by its sumptuous, sun-drenched beauty, the end result is an artful film that — like its intoxicating altitude — is sure to attract.

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