I had just gotten on the elliptical, and, as I started pedaling, I was looking for something to look at on Netflix. I didn’t have a taste for comedy, I had also just finished watching a documentary on the American religious movement The Family. I typed “gay” in the search. I didn’t have too many illusions. There are often as many pranks, Shakespearean dramas, or small stories in this category that promise a little turgidity without coming out moved or appeased.
So it was with a little apprehension that I started watching Francis Lee’s God’s own country, a film from 2017, without knowing that this film had won numerous awards around the world in the independent film category. The title, in French, is pretty: Seule la terre (Only Earth).
The story has been told many times, in both hetero- and homosexuality. A stranger arrives in a village, comes to upset the life of someone who thought he was lost. We are in the countryside of England. Johnny Saxby, the son of a farmer, has difficulty accepting the future that destiny presents to him. His cantankerous father is recovering from a stroke, Johnny has to do all the work on the farm, gets drunk more often in the evening, gets up vomiting in the morning. The mother says nothing. The young man is going to sell a cow at auction, takes advantage of the occasion to jump on a young villager in a trailer. An explicit scene, as raw as the countryside can be. It reminded me of the confidence of a forensic doctor who lived in a remote town in Russia, and who told me, with a half-empty bottle of vodka, through the magic of the Internet, about the antics of men among themselves. It is the ball of the unsaid, the frustrations, the non-love, the stereotypical behavior of country folk, or the repressed, who do not accept deviancy, considering it a mortal sin and who react most often with a concrete face, cloistered in the fear of showing any weakness.
The film, a first production, could have been limited in this way to describing what has already been shown many times. A handsome Romanian worker, Gheorghe, arrives, an immigrant who is obviously not well received by the villagers. He has been hired by the family to help briefly with the farm work during the ewe’s calving season.
Johnny’s harshness towards the worker augurs, unsurprisingly, that all this will change. After all, this is a demonstration of contrasts that must be reconciled, and not necessarily because it is a film about the homosexual relationship.
The Romanian with the curly black hair knows how to work, he also knows how to take care of animals, which Johnny is not very good at. The scenes are classic. The two young men will repair a stone wall and look after the sheep, far away from the house. After a few days, a storm breaks out between them and so the passion. Johnny is already another man.
I won’t say any more about the story, which remains quite simple. However, it is well filmed, with direct, frank, and intimate scenes that appealed to me. All the actors are good, there is nothing caricatured in their behavior and visions of things. After my twenty minutes of elliptic, I went to bed instead of taking a shower. At the end of the viewing, I was shaken, I admit it.
The beauty of this little film lies in the feelings it exposes, the promise of a better day to come, because the film, for once, ends well. It confronted me with what I was able to achieve in terms of love, with the big ball of hope that solidified like a hard stone within me, with the realization that the possibilities are now tenuous on this side, at least the awareness of the time lost in having wanted to be loved.
I really saw myself at the farm, living with a beautiful Romanian. Well, let’s forget about the farm, even if I can be a tough guy at work. However, to have been twenty years old would have been quite possible. Happiness can really be in the meadows.
But for the rest… This dream, this need to have a companion, to go through the hours with him and to leave the planet with the flower of his smile in own’s heart, that I did not have. Of course, I have loved and still love in my own way, with what Karma and Dharma have told me. I still had to write it here, because we cannot move forward in life if we do not talk about our failures, if we do not look them in the face in order to make them, as they should be, the material, the cement, the cohesion of our existence.
You may well watch this film without being moved. For some, the few sexual scenes will make them uncomfortable even if they are, after all, only suggested. I’m sure you’ll recognize the sexuality of all men, and that’s what counts.
God’s own country is unlikely to go down in film history. It will have marked mine for a while, reminding me of the need to love, to still dream of what I could be when I grow up and to be now what I am since I am old.
The stories I wrote don’t have the finesse of this film, but I recognized the same raw modesty. There are magic and eternity in telling love.