The Sower @ The Ross

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Pauline Burley as Violette and Alban Lenoir as Jean

How do women cope in the time of war? In our own history, we know women went to work and managed households until war’s end. In her film The Sower, filmmaker Marine Fransoun marks out the day-to-day activities of women who have to fend for themselves in a remote mountain farming village. The time is 1851. The place, France. A brutal coup d’etat occurs and, on orders by President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, all men either are arrested and/or or killed. The women and children assume the responsibility of managing life as a result of this violent state of affairs.

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The Sower is Marie Fransoun’s directorial debut she has based on the novel by Violette Ailhoud, written in 1919 at 84 years of age. Rather than using the original title L’homme Semence translated as The Man Semen, Fransoun entitles the film from the same name of the painting by Jean Francois Millet. She deftly handles every scene; Alain Duplantier’s extreme long shots of the landscape invoke visions of The Gleaners in the art of Jean Millet or The Sweatgrass Carriers in the art of South Carolina artist, Jonathan Green.

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Jean and the women

Bereft and traumatized, the women band together to farm, harvest crops, and tend to the children. Some women are mothers; some have experienced intimacy. Others find themselves with no prospects for either venture. So, they make a vow: If a man comes to the village, each of them will share him as their lover. There’s just one thing, though. No one asks the question, what shall we do if I fall in love with him and he with me? Jean, the man, (played with delicate sensuality by Alban Lenoir) arrives in the village, and he is fine-looking and he is mysterious and he is young. The women remark, “If he was the only one left, you wouldn’t make a fuss” and “You’d be happy to wrap your legs around him” or “I think he fancies you; he’s so handsome.”

There is an interesting twist to the story. Pauline Burley plays Violette, the young woman who spies Jean ambling along on the hilltop, and their interaction threatens to upend the overall peace in the village. Each actress communicates character reaction to Jean’s arrival with exceptional range. Feelings are revealed via side glances as she harvests. Their hearts beat intense desire wrapped in anxiety and sexual frustration.

 

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One of the women reminds Juliette of the bargain

Alain Duplantier’s cinematography interposes scenic space between dialogue and action to prevent emotions running high throughout the village from overwhelming the narrative; Fransoun’s direction allows the story to breathe in and to breathe out but keeping in focus the simmering conflicts. Alban Lenoir interprets Jean well as a stranger among women caught up in their sexual politics. “You’re all mad—stark mad” he retorts. Remarkable to the story, Fransoun agrees with Jean, and relieves the character of his anxiety in a very practical way.

The Sower plays through April 4 at the Ross Media Arts Center. English Subtitles.

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