VIFF Review: ‘In the Name of the Land’ is a melancholy tale about life on a modern farm

Farming is hard work. I don’t know that those of us who live in the cities and suburbs really appreciate that all the time. The food we buy at grocery stores often ends up there due to many people doing backbreaking labour seven days a week.

We tend to think of farming as a simple life, but in truth, modern farming is anything but. As corporate interests push further and further into the market, they make it harder and harder for farmers to get ahead, all the while profiting off the sweat of the working man’s brow. That might sound like hyperbole, and it is, but it’s also true.

If you still aren’t convinced, In the Name of the Land is here to set you straight. Édouard Bergeon’s generational family drama tells the story of a man struggling to stay afloat as the world changes around him. It is a melancholy tale, with an excellent central performance, and despite being set in France, it feels like it rings true everywhere that corporate interests are involved in farming.

Guillaume Canet stars as Pierre, an eager and entrepreneurial farmer in mid-1990s France. Twenty years prior, he purchased the family farm from his father and quickly expanded. But things are not as good as they seem on the farm. He is already facing down a loan coming due and the purchase price for his goats bottoming out when he is approached by a corporate chicken farming interest who wants him to sign a deal. It’s the easiest thing in the world, they tell him, but also that he’ll need to invest hundreds of thousands of francs more than anticipated to build a much bigger operation than he knows he can handle.

Pierre has just about everything a man could want in a family; they love and support him and are active in the business. His wife, Claire (Veerle Baetens), does the books. His son hopes to take over one day. The life they lead is perilous, though, and when a disaster strikes, their world is effectively undone.

In the Name of the Land is a story about how modern farming grinds people down. Pierre’s father (Rufus), a gruff and unforgiving man who forced Pierre to purchase the farm rather than hand it over and whose contract keeps him paid every year, often confronts his son about how the old ways are better hard work is the key. He doesn’t seem to realize, even when directly told, that the old ways are no longer an option, that the system is stacked against the individual, and that there is no easy escape.

Guillaume Canet is a great actor and In the Name of the Land gives him plenty of room to flex. Pierre is a man undone by his work, and Canet leans into not only the anger and resentment that bubbles up inside Pierre but the depression and self-loathing. It’s a role that could easily have fallen into caricature, but Canet keeps the performance grounded and truthful.

The film is also gorgeous to look at, with plenty of French countrysides to look at and often set against the backdrop of a setting sun; Bergeon has a real eye for composition and framing. You might be surprised to know this is his first narrative feature after a healthy career making documentaries; after seeing it, you will not be surprised to learn that he scored a nomination for a César Award (France’s Oscars) in the category of Best First Film.

In the Name of the Land is a story we should all heed. We expect more and more from our farmers, and we give them less and less compensation for their work. Already a powerful film, there is a text tag at the end that makes it clear it is also an incredibly personal one. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Édouard Bergeon, and in the meantime, you should add this one to your watch list.

In the Name of the Land (Au nom de la Terre) played as part of the 2020 Vancouver International Film Festival.

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