Review | "God's Own Country" (2017)

The lonely landscape of the English countryside provides the backdrop for God's Own Country, the directorial debut of British actor, Francis Lee. It also becomes the catalyst for a budding relationship between two men; Johnny (Josh O'Connor) an inarticulate farmer predisposed to anonymous, casual sex, and Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) a Romanian immigrant hired by Johnny's father facing prejudice and mistrust. At first, the two seem natural enemies. Johnny is withdrawn, rebellious, and suspicious of any outsiders. He would much rather have a quick encounter in a bathroom than carry on a conversation with a partner. Gheorghe is much more settled in who he is. He's more assertive, having faced many hardships in the past, and refuses to tolerate Johnny's casual racism.

Alone on the moors with their sheep, what begins as horseplay quickly turns sexual as carnal instincts take hold. Yet Gheorghe refuses to consent to Johnny's brand of quick and meaningless sex. Instead, he introduces him to intimacy, in the process teaching Johnny that there is more to love that just carnal pleasures. The two quickly become something Johnny never expected, but overcoming his old ways may prove impossible.  For Johnny, love is a foreign concept, kept at bay by his narrow concept of masculinity, never allowing himself to feel vulnerable or "weak."

Like a British Brokeback Mountain, God's Own Country is a tale of two sheep-herders in love who can barely express their feelings in words. But like Ang Lee's 2005 masterpiece, it finds something deeply beautiful in the unspoken language shared between the two men. It is haunting, hushed, featuring a lovely score by A Winged Victory for the Sullen (AKA Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie), and bathed in evocative and mysterious glow of the English farmlands. The performances by the two leads are both tinged with sadness and filled with a longing they can barely express in words, but can be seen in downturned eyes and furtive glances.

Lee has made an astonishing debut behind the camera. It is a love story of rare power and depth, whose effects are felt not through words the characters say but through the words they don't. There's a raw, hangdog charm about it, scrappy and agreeably rough around the edges, doggedly imperfect and all the better for it. These are simple men, farmers, salt of the earth, not given to poetry or profound insight. For They're just two people falling in love, feeling something they don't quite understand and have never experienced before, and the results are both intoxicating and heartbreaking.  God's Own Country is a lovely film, a heartfelt and moving exploration of the line between lust and love, where the sometimes erotic nature of masculine friendship spills over from one to the other.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

GOD'S OWN COUNTRY | Directed by Francis Lee | Stars Josh O'Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart | Not Rated | Now playing in New York and Los Angeles.


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