Thursday, June 13, 2019

A 19th-century French farming village, minus the men, in Marine Franssen's THE SOWER

How this little village comes to be missing all its adult males is a nasty part of French history involving the coup d'état of 1851, during which males thought to be sympathizers with the republican cause were rounded up and either killed or imprisoned. As usual with coups of this sort, those in charge could care less what happens to either the men or the villages left "male-less" due to an would-be emperor's craving for power.

In THE SOWER (as ironic and double-edged a title as you're likely to find), a movie directed and co-written by Marine Franssen, the women of this bereft little farming town take into their own very capable hands matters involving everything from sowing and harvesting to school-teaching and sex.

That last, of course, proves both pivotal and the raison d'être of the film that Ms Franssen, shown at left, has given us -- adapted from the short story, L'Homme semence, by Violette Ailhaud.

I suppose it is not too much of a spoiler -- since the tag line at the bottom of the poster, top, points this out -- to mention that the women of this village have made a pact: We agreed, if a man come someday, he'd be all of ours.

As you will expect, a man does indeed come, and before long, as you will also expect, some sexual sharing is in the offing.

If this sounds a little too much like a century-old, costume version of something as sleazy as Indecent Proposal or its more current and not-to-be-missed version (if you enjoy exquisitely attuned trash), What/If on Netflix streaming, you can rest easy. Because The Sower is ripe, all right, but with the genuine feeling of sisterhood between the women of this little village, both the younger set and the older, all of whom work together to achieve what needs to be done to keep things intact, until -- if ever -- their men return.

When a single man does appear -- nicely played by the very-attractive-if-intentionally-closed-off Alban Lenoir (above) -- this fellow does what you'd expect, especially as he is initially "courted" by the most attractive and virginal of the town's young ladies, given a precise yet muted performance by an actress new to me, Pauline Burlet (below), who brings a pleasing combination of beauty and keen intelligence to her role.

What happens here is both expected and maybe not, with a result that is primal and completely understandable, given the unusual circumstances of this village. Best of all, there are no villains here -- except of course the royal powers-that-be. Instead, people act in their own best interests but also, finally, in the interests of the village.

By the quietly moving finale, The Sower has become a kind of unusual, unending love story in which there is sorrow and parting but also regeneration and hope. Ms Franssen has given us a tale that could have easily degenerated into mere, if pleasing, eroticism and instead suffused it with compassion, morality, humanity and a deep understanding of desire, need and what you might call not merely mutual sexual satisfaction but something a good deal more "overall."

From Film Movement, in French with English subtitles and running an appropriate 98 minutes, The Sower seems to have bypassed any U.S. theatrical release to go straight to home video, hitting the street on DVD and digital streaming this past Tuesday, June 11 -- for purchase or rental. Seek this one out, it you enjoy intelligent, thought-provoking love stories.

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