P auline (Émilie Dequenne) is a visiting nurse and single mother of two adorable children in a small town in Northern France. She and the kids have a close relationship with her father, a retired union activist and self-proclaimed communist, and they enjoy a reasonably good life, even if the town as a whole is not doing great (many shops downtown are boarded up and some of the patients she visits live in concrete tower blocks). Despite not having much interest in politics, she is encouraged to run for mayor by her family doctor, Philippe Berthier (André Dussollier), because she understands the community and its needs.
At first Pauline is reluctant to take up Berthier on his suggestion, because of his alliance with the Renewed National Party (RNP). The RNP is basically an upscale version of the National Front (FN)—they choose their words carefully but are in fact against immigrants and anyone they consider to be not properly French. They also keep their hands clean by dissociating themselves from the gangs of French thugs who assault immigrants and other dark-skinned people and justify their actions with the slogans of the RNP.
Still, Berthier is a very clever in his use of flattery and double talk—he should be in the dictionary under “fascism with a kind face”—and eventually Pauline agrees to run. What she doesn’t know is that she is being used as a pawn by the RNP, acting as a more attractive face for a party headed by Agnès Dorgelle (Catherine Jacob), who looks and talks a whole lot like Marine Le Pen. Her indoctrination into RNP values is gradual but insidious, to the point where she bleaches her hair to look more like Dorgelle.
This is Our Land is more a politcal fable crossed with an old-fashioned melodrama than it is a dramatic film in the modern sense, but that’s not a complaint. Instead, casting the story as a fable provides a particular kind of experience, one designed to allow the viewer to recognize the truth behind the somewhat oversimplified and sometimes unrealistic events portrayed. This choice explains some of the less believable moments in this film, as when Pauline fails to notice the enormous fascist tattoos on the body of her boyfriend, Stéphane (Guillaume Gouix), a character who provides an example of the lower class version of attractive fascism: he’s a hunky guy who coaches soccer and is attentive to her family, while keeping his sideline in beating up brown-skinned kids to himself.
When Marine Le Pen and the FN starting attracting serious support in France, there was a lot of tut-tutting from Britain and the United States. Jump forward a few years and the roles have reversed—the FN did not triumph in France, but Britain voted to leave the EU and the United States elected Donald Trump as president. Which is to say that although the story of this film is set in France, it can be understood through the political history of other countries also.
The French title, “Chez Nous”, is at once more intimate and less political than “This is Our Land.” As anyone who has taken French 101 can testify, inviting someone for dinner “chez nous” means “come have dinner with us in our home”. One implication of the French title is that anti-immigrant sentiment stems from expecting to have the same veto power over who can live in the country you live in as you have for who you invite into your home. That’s a bizarre sentiment if looked at logically, I suspect it is behind much bigotry—these people are different from me and they make me feel uncomfortable, so they have to go! Of course, it would sound silly to say that, so people come up with excuses about preventing crime or the preserving traditional national culture.
This is Our Land is distributed on DVD by Icarus Films. The only extra on the DVD are trailers for three films). | Sarah Boslaugh