by Fabien Lemercier
- Dutch artist Janet van den Brand directs a beautiful first feature film with a poetic and realistic documentary about children growing up on a farm
"There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months, and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow, and frost… The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person.” This quote from The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks opens the documentary Ceres [+see also:
film profile], the first feature film by Dutch director Janet van den Brand, discovered in French premiere at the 9th La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival. An immersion that is both harsh and viewed through the heart of nature's cycles in the south-west of the Netherlands. Because by choosing to approach this bucolic universe through the eyes of four farmer children – all about ten years old – the filmmaker finds a novel way of portraying not just the bucolic charm of these places, but the harshness of a life spent farming and breeding and the intense effect of this vocation on human existence.
Koen and his overflowing and touching love for animals (pigs and cows), Daan who learns to kill and cut up poultry and to harvest potatoes and grain, Sven who roams about the farm on his quadbike, looking out for hail, capable of destroying pears and apples in a matter of minutes and Janine, who takes care of a family of sheep: the four children in this film were raised in the cradle of nature and know the rhythm of the seasons perfectly ("why does winter exist? Who invented it? It's really dreary and boring") and are reaching the age when they become fully aware that they will take over from their parents ("I don’t talk about the farm at school because no one's interested in it"). And despite still showing their age (Janine and her passion for nail polish, games in the hay, swimming, cycling on the roads during the summer months, etc.), the farm's serious environment has rubbed off on their fun activities: pick-up rodeos, hunting, a very sharp knowledge of agricultural machinery ("the first time I drove a tractor, it was fantastic"), looking at the weather on laptops to check for bad weather or in the hope that the drought might end soon, dreams of North American and Australian open spaces, TV adverts for combine harvesters, etc.). Not to mention the acceptance of life and death ("if you want to be a farmer, you have to know how to say goodbye to animals").
Beyond the interesting angle adopted by Janet van den Brand, who has clearly very skilfully chosen her lovable characters, their testimonies alternate with moments in their daily lives, painting an objective picture of life on a farm without dramatising or obscuring its harsher aspects. Ceres manages to create an atmosphere that enhances the beauty of nature in all its forms (grass blowing in the wind, birds flying overhead, the sun caressing the fields, etc.). A very accomplished poetic-realistic blend that highlights a beautiful sense of frame (with Timothy Joshua Wennekes as the director of photography) and some wonderful musical atmospheres (composed by Harrold Roeland), thanks to a clearly very talented filmmaker who we hope will lend her skill to fiction films in years to come.
Unveiled at Berlin in the Generation Kplus programme, at Visions du Réel and at Hot Docs, as well as being nominated for an Ensor award for Best Documentary and a special mention in the national competition at Brussels International Film Festival, Ceres was produced by the Belgian company Diplodokus and co-produced by Tangerine Tree, Belga Productions and Evangelische Omroep. International sales are being handled by the British outfit Taskovski Films.
(Translated from French)
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