Of the need to love

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.