Our Own Land

By Simon Helloco | Drama
2 brothers are alone at home -- but forbid themselves to go upstairs.

Omeleto is partnering with Unifrance as part of their annual MyFrenchFilmFestival event, which showcases the formidable range of contemporary French cinema. From dark dramas to absurdist comedy to gritty social realism to thoughtful reverie, all the films are distinguished by the excellence of quality and a commitment to cinema as a vital, visionary art form, nourished by a supportive, innovative industry.

Jacob and Theo are two brothers whose summer is ending in the quiet Breton countryside. As farmers harvest corn around them, the two young boys are alone in their big house, and there are no parents around.

On their own, they are masters of their own vast, imaginative kingdom, coming and going as they want and spending their time how they feel. They have only one rule: no one can go upstairs in the house. But as time stretches on, they realize they can't ignore the truth they've been avoiding for some time.

Written and directed by Simon Helloco, this short family drama is profoundly quiet, reflecting the landscape around the pair of boys who form the heart of the narrative. The Breton countryside is spacious, connected to nature and almost intimidatingly wide, and the film's first half weaves a hypnotic atmosphere with moody light, empty sound and poetic yet precise cinematography.

At first, this atmosphere has an almost idyllic sense of enchantment, and the story seems almost like a fable of childhood, with the boys in a world of their own. But a slow undertow of uneasiness creeps in as the storytelling unfurls, breadcrumbing details as it goes along. The smallness and isolation of the boys -- beautifully played by young actors Noe Vallee and are Swann Vallee -- are emphasized visually, and the movements of the camera have a stately but creeping quality, particularly in the family home, as if the camera is haunting the rooms.

As viewers witness more of the boys' relationships -- and pick up small clues embedded into the mise-en-scene -- we begin to understand the larger story and sense the bigger world that the boys have cocooned themselves against, endowing the film with suspense and even danger. It's a masterful shift that gives the film its power and resonance. A bigger, colder, less insular world is catching up to the brothers, and when it does, "Our Own Land" also reveals its full form, as a momentous story about family, loyalty and fraternal love, undergirded by violence, danger and devastation.

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