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Sunday, 18 November 2007

God's Country (1986) Louis Malle

The last of the Louis Malle documentaries being shown on TCM as part of his 75th birthday celebrations is a lot more focused than Place de la république. It was made for public television and focused on a town called Glencoe in Minnesota. There's a narration by Louis Malle himself, and while it drills in to things that seem to seem strange to him like a seeming obsession for lawnmowers or cow insemination it ends up being very incisive. He's seeing a community that's rooted in tradition but changing and he gets that across in the film.

Early on everything is about farming. Everyone farms, even when they have other jobs. Everyone lives their farming and sees no end to the history that has had that tradition in place for decades. While there's dissent among some of the young people, exhibited by some awesome honesty, nobody really seems to break the tradition. They're just people within the same community doing different things and with different outlooks on life.

Later though, Malle returns after six years to find the farming community in ruins. Old women tending gardens are still tending the same gardens six years later, but the farming side of things, which is almost everything in Glencoe, is in dire straits. Farmers have seen huge losses or left entirely, and their outlook on the future is no longer optimistically static. Now they can't see the viability of their own livelihoods, let alone those of their kids. The last fifteen minutes makes this a sad story.

Malle does a good job, wringing a lot of honesty out of people. People talk about things that seem surprising for people in a small community talking to a camera, about relationships and attitudes to race and sex. One lady is surprisingly frank and what her eyes say is even more telling than what her words say. Another farmer seems to talk tolerance in the face of rising extremism but then drifts onto the Jews who run their markets, adding that he has evidence as if he knows that his words would be interpreted in a certain fashion.

I know next to nothing about Glencoe, Minnesota and the American farming communities, but this was a solid introduction to one small community. It left me more aware, while Place de la république left me more confused.

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