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Beasts (La Terre des Homes)

The subtle machinations of sexual abuse and deeply rooted patriarchal power structures are the central pillar of this quiet French drama - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Timid and delicate 25-year-old Constance (Diane Rouxel) works in a cattle-breeding farm somewhere in rural Burgundy. She is about to marry the equally quiet and demure Bruno (Finnegan Oldfield), who works in the same facilities. They don’t have much money, and they could lose their job and their lifeline if Constance’s project application at the Farm Board is rejected.

The local agricultural chairman Sylvain (Jalil Lespert) sets out to help Constance, but he has a vested interests in the young woman. He forces himself upon her when she’s most vulnerable. An easy prey, it seems. Constance hardly budges as he kisses and touches her body, her eyes glistening with fear. At one point she vocalises a feeble “no”, but this is not enough to stop Sylvain. He does not perceive his actions as rape. A few days later, they have another yet sexual encounter. The helpless Constance does not know how to get out of the insidious power game.

Constance and Bruno hold a very low-key ceremony for their wedding. The only guests are a handful of friends, Sylvain, his wife and children. Once again, Sylvain attempts to prey on Constance. Bruno briefly witnesses the interaction and assumes that his wife is cheating on him. Constance is so inexperienced and vulnerable that she is unable to elucidate what happened. Instead, she feels guilty.

Eventually, Constance learns how to operate the power structures to her benefit. She files a rape complaint against Sylvain. But this isn’t a smooth and straightforward case. Constance has no evidence against the powerful man, and the police have to rely entirely on their statements. At one point, Constance and Sylvain are interviewed together, in the film’s most dramatic and powerful sequence. Could she turn the tables and prove to her rural community that this seemingly honourable patriarch and executive violated her? Will the old-fashioned power structures prevail? Must Constance remain permanently relegated to the victim role? The final answer to all of these questions is pleasantly surprising.

Animals have a pervasive symbolism throughout this realistic and effective little drama. The titular beasts are both the men and the bovines that Constance has to handle. At one point, the local farmers lock Constance in a pen and mock the various parts of her body, comparing her to a cow. Men indeed behave like beasts. They are unabashed and unrepentant breeders.

Beasts is showing in the Official Competition of the 24th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 19-11-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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