The Sower (Francen, 2017)

The Sower is not a great film, but it is so much better than any summary of its tawdry premise could make it sound that I’m tempted to just give it a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and move on.

The film is a French version of The Beguiled. The men in the Alpine village are taken away by Napoleon’s army, and the women make a pact to “share” any man who happens to happen into their village. This pact is partly an act of survival, partly the result of idle daydreaming evoked by boredom and desperation. Sure enough, Jean (Alban Lenoir) comes sliding down the next ridge asking for permission to stay with them for the time being.

The rest of the plot is fairly predictable. Violette (Pauline Burlet) makes a genuine connection with Jean, but she feels compelled to honor the agreement she has made. “I’m bound to the other women,” she tells her indignant and hurt lover.

While the film’s set-up evokes The Beguiled, its execution is more reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale or Breaking the Waves. Of course, in this film, it is the male whose body belongs to the collective or whose lover pushes him to sleep with others. It is central to these themes that film takes place after the Republican uprising of 1851, meaning that questions of what it means to be “free” are in both the foreground and the background. Violette insists that Jean is free to reject the agreement the women have made and leave the village, to which he replies “You don’t know anything about me.”

Unlike in some of these other narratives, however, the women are not represented as sexually naive or repressed. Some are virginal, yes, but others are already married, already lovers. The war does not loosen the societal restrictions. For some of the women, it deprives them of a natural part of their lives. For others, it deprives them of the hope that they will experience a normal life in due time. Ultimately, that’s what makes The Sower more of a war film than a love story. The loss of hope does more to warp the values of the community than does the threat of pain or death.

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