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The Sower

In 1852, the mountain village in Provence where Violette lives is brutally deprived of all its men after the repression of the republicans ordered by Napoleon III. Women spend months in total isolation, desperate to see their men again. In this situation, they make an oath in case a man arrives in the village.

"A different version of “The Sower,” Marine Francen’s poised and petite freshman feature, might have included the extended, rather remarkable story behind its literary source. Aged 84, former village schoolteacher Violette Ailhaud wrote her autobiographical short story “L’homme semence” in 1919, passing it to an attorney with clear instructions that it be given to her eldest female descendant in 1952, a full century after the events it documents; a curious, bittersweet tale of lost innocence and sexual conspiracy in a community of women, it remained in the family for half a century before being published, to steadily building acclaim, in 2006. Some manner of film adaptation was inevitable. Francen’s, however, honors Ailhaud by telling only the story she wrote, albeit with subtly modernized language and aesthetics, underlining its enduringly provocative gender politics in the process.

The resulting film is so delicately wrought and exquisitely visualized that the harsher, eerier details of Ailhaud’s account stand out all the more strikingly, like a shot of vinegar in a pristine crème caramel. Both moving on its own terms and an invigorating conversation-starter, “The Sower” has enjoyed a successful run of festival exposure and international sales since emerging victorious in the San Sebastian fest’s competitive New Directors strand, though this serenely accomplished debut has arguably received less than its due on the French awards circuit. That distributors in the U.S. and across Europe stepped forward isn’t surprising for a film that, despite its low star wattage, can alluringly be pitched to arthouse audiences as a cross between Xavier Beauvois’ “The Guardians” and Sofia Coppola’s pastelized spin on “The Beguiled” — though even with those reference points in place, it’s a bracing, unusual creation.

If the film risks seeming a shade too beautiful for Ailhaut’s mostly tough-minded tale, that’s not by accident. In tweaking the source’s none-too-subtle title, Francen has effectively named her film for Jean-Francois Millet’s famous 1850 painting “The Sower,” one of several Realist works of the period that aroused controversy in the Parisian art scene for their elegant, ennobling treatment of poverty-stricken rural subjects. Francen’s own painterly film gives its abandoned, beleaguered women of the soil the same graceful treatment." - Guy Lodge, Variety

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Directed by: 
Marine Francen
Running Time: 
France, Belgium
Pauline Burlet, Géraldine Pailhas, Alban Lenoir
Screenplay by: 
Marine Francen

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