The Guardians, Xavier Beauvois; 138 mins
This tale of rural Limousin and the struggles of womenfolk left to farm its land during the First World War, is perfectly suited to a cool autumn evening by the fire with a glass of something French and strong in hand.
Director Beauvois brought us the magnificent Cistercian monk drama Of Gods and Men in 2010, and a similar sense of the characters’ isolation prevails here.
The film opens with Nathalie Baye’s matriarch Hortense trudging through the soil alongside a horse-drawn plough. She runs the farm with daughter Solange (Baye’s real-life daughter with Johnny Hallyday) but they need help, so hire a young farmhand, Francine (Iris Bry).
The new arrival soon gets the glad eye from Hortense’s son, home from the front, which throws the dynamics of the farm. Elsewhere, shadows of war loom ever larger, and tragedy visits.
Pace-wise, the film reflects both the epoch and farm life so it really is slow- going (the story spans six years), but it is all the better for it. Splendid art work (cinematographer Caroline Champetier excels) makes it a visual treat, adding period detail to the pathos.
The Great War is so often defined by the loss and legacy of the era’s menfolk, so a focus on France’s own Land Girls is both rare and welcome.
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