God’s own country

The last film I saw in 2017 was Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name and my first film of 2018 is God’s own country, two gay films about young men falling in love. Call me by your name has been sold as a possible Oscar contender and a follow-up to last year’s Moonlight. But I think that God’s own country is the much better film. It takes place in present-day Yorkshire, England where twenty-something Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives on a sheep farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart) and his grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). His father suffered a stroke and Johnny has to work long hours alone to keep things going. He spends his evening drinking at the local pub with occasional gay sex in public washroom. Having been drinking all night, the next day becomes even more of a burden. Some of the work is not being done and Martin and Deirdre chastise him. But what can they do? They have all inherited an unpleasant situation. Johnny is terribly unhappy and lonely. Then the decision is taken to hire some help for the lambing season. Enter handsome Romanian hired hand Gheorghe Ionescu (Alex Secareanu). Initially, Johnny resents Gheorghe’s presence at the farm. They have to spend several days camping nearer to where the animals have moved. Whatever happens during these few day will change their lives. They have sex, but unlike Luca Guadagnino with Call me by your name, director
Francis Lee and his actors seems unafraid to show sex between men or male nudity. It’s raw (don’t worry nothing explicit or pornographic) and it feels real. And Lee has wisely defined the relationship between the two men with an earlier detail. In his previous encounters, Johnny won’t kiss his male partners, but he kisses Gheorghe. But it’s more than that. Gheorghe has a love and appreciation of the beauty of the country, and for Johnny the love of a man and of the country is the only thing that can save his life. After some misstep, Johnny decides that he needs Gheorghe if he wants to be happy. God’s own country has a lot of similarities with Ang Lee’s Brokeback mountain. The two lovers in God’s own country are also masculine men of few words, the movie is raw and rough. O’Connor’s expressive star making performance is riveting. The painful expression of the depressed and unhappy Johnny is heart wrenching. Alex Secareanu’s Gheorghe is an intriguing composition, making him, in Johnny’s eyes, impossible to read. He is forceful and tender all at once. They are well supported by Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who play characters more concerned with the daily chore and small gestures than the long conversations. Joshua James Richards’s cinematography is most important here. Like a painter, he carefully uses touches of grays and blues for the Yorkshire skies, and browns, oranges and ochre for its trees and leaves. Josh O’connor has said “I loved that this was an unforgiving, bleak view of someone’s life, but which had hope. You don’t see that in any cinema, let alone LGBT.”

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

God’s own country

 

Directed by:
Francis Lee

Screenplay by:
Francis Lee

Starring:
Josh O’Connor
Alec Secareanu
Gemma Jones
Ian Hart
Harry Lister Smith

104 min.

Rated 18A

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