Beasts

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Beasts
"The director fully conveys how just being a lone woman in an all-male environment can be stressful in and of itself." | Photo: Courtesy of POFF

If there's one thing films about farming have consistently shown us in recent years, from Britain (God's Own Country, The Levelling) to Iceland (The County) and beyond, it's that toxic masculinity thrives like wheat in the environment.

This time it's France where men rule the roost and women are thin on the ground and where, for once, the English title of the film gets to the heart of its emotions more than perhaps the more poetic French name La Terre Des Hommes (The Land of Men). Naël Marandin, writing with Marion Doussot and Marion Desseigne-Ravel, takes us to rural dairy country, where Constance (Diane Rouxel) is trying to keep her family farm afloat alongside her dad (Olivier Gourmet) and fiance Bruno (Finnegan Oldfield). With auction prices for their stock dropping - like many details here shown to us in an immersive cattle market scene rather than simply relayed through dialogue - Constance has a plan to take the farm upmarket.

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The problem is that her project needs the backing of the local farm board, which is packed to the gills with farmers whose predatory desires for the farm and old-fashioned sexism may well outweigh any consideration of whether the plan is any good or not. Her one ally in this is Sylvain (Jalil Despert), the head of the board and who seems to back her, but Marandin ensures that we see before she does, the way he stands just a bit too close to her, lingers in his looks and is always on the cusp of invading her space.

Marandin keeps a tight hold of the mood as the wider drama of the future of the farm plays out, while ensuring the focus stays with Constance as she is increasingly trapped in an emotional nightmare as well as a financial one. Rouxel is perfectly cast in the central role, her tiny frame suggesting fragility against the often burly farmers, her body language initially full of a forthright determination and, later, humming with tension as she tries to find a way out of the nightmare she is in. The men play second fiddle but their tunes also sing out, from the easy charm of Despert's Sylvain that slips effortlessly into something more dark to Gourmet's taciturn portrayal of her father, that lets the right amount of emotion in at just the right moments.

The director fully conveys how just being a lone woman in an all-male environment can be stressful in and of itself. It also encapsulates a sense of male privilege, as Sylvain is just one of those completely unrepentent about his actions. There's also nothing voyeuristic about the action, with Marandin ensuring that we feel as uncomfortable and anxious as his heroine when situations go south - a scene in which the farmers gang up on her for "a joke" brimming with unspoken violence even though they're all laughing and nobody raises a hand. Constance is a lot more than a mere victim here, however, and her family - and Marandin - keep the faith with her too the last.

Originally scheduled to play in the Critics' Week at Cannes, Marandin's film, which also benefits from a strong sense of place and some lovely magic hour and docu-realistic lensing from Damien Maestraggi, would have been a strong contender and remains so at Tallinn, where it plays in the Official Competition.

Reviewed on: 24 Nov 2020
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A woman finds herself in a political and emotional power struggle as she tries to save her family farm.

Director: Naël Marandin

Writer: Naël Marandin

Starring: Diane Rouxel, Finnegan Oldfield, Jalil Lespert, Olivier Gourmet

Year: 2020

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

Black Nights 2020

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If you like this, try:

All Is Well
The County
The Levelling