‘The Plough’ Review: A Slow and Self-Centered Meditation on Shared Family Dreams

Feb 26, 2023

Home Movie Reviews ‘The Plough’ Review: A Slow and Self-Centered Meditation on Shared Family Dreams | Berlinale 2023

Philippe Garrel uses his personal story to craft a story that challenges the audience’s attention span.

French cinema is populated by intimate dramas that take a random slice of life and explore it to exhaustion, revealing the beauty and pain hidden in everyday lives. And when it comes to the French New Wave, directors such as Philippe Garrel are also concerned about breaking filmmaking conventions, which might lead to absolute classics such as Regular Lovers or polarizing pictures such as The Salt of Tears. Garrel’s latest movie, The Plough (Le Grand Chariot), is bound to be another divisive entry in the filmmaker’s filmography, as the director builds a story that’s too slow and auto-referential to connect with a significant part of the audience.

The Plough follows a family of puppeteers led by an unnamed patriarch (Aurélien Recoing) who wishes for nothing more than for his three children to follow in his footsteps. While the business of puppeteering is far from booming, the Father still guides his family in the magical kingdom of storytelling, reveling in the everyday joys of bringing smiles to children’s faces. Due to the contagious passion of their father, the three siblings dedicate their entire life to the puppeteering business. However, when the old man starts to glimpse the end of his career, the whole family must reflect on the question of continuity. And it’s up to each of the three siblings to decide if they want to keep the family traditions alive and how they want to approach the puppeteering business.

As if it wasn’t already evident that Garrel is reflecting on his own filmmaking legacy and the hardships of independent filmmaking, the director has cast his three real-life children as The Plough’s siblings, Louis Garrel, Esther Garrel, and Lena Garrel. The trio of actors will be at the story’s center, each deciding to do something different with the storytelling empire their father spent his entire life building. Fact and fiction also intertwine in Recoing’s personal history, as the actor had a puppeteering father, which contributed to him becoming a performer. But while it can be interesting to use reality as the raw material for filmmaking, at times, The Plough feels too self-centered to be simply enjoyed.

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The lack of subtlety of The Plough is also reflected in a few jarring structural choices. For instance, there’s a bothersome narration emerging from time to time to explain an event or talk about a particular character’s emotional universe. The redundancy of the narration breaks the immersion and hurts The Plough’s painfully slow pacing even more. It’s hard to imagine why Garrel included such a useless storytelling device in his latest film.

Following the French New Wave tradition, The Plough is also not concerned with giving its story a proper ending. And while the idea is to underline how life doesn’t follow filmmaking rules and never really ends, the abrupt interruption of the narrative feels like an odd addition to a movie that basically sees characters moving from one place to the other while not much happens. As a result, the emotional stakes are low, and there’s little payoff after following the puppeteering family’s tale.

There’s a particular beauty in the mundane that The Plough brings to the silver screen. And fans connected with Garrel’s filmmaking history might feel a special connection to his personal questions of legacy. However, your mileage with The Plough will widely vary depending on your patience for long shots and uneventful stories. That said, there’s a big chance The Plough becomes nothing more than a drag for people expecting more than a quiet meditation that’s too particular to properly resonate with the public.

Rating: C

The Plough had its world premiere at 2023’s Berlin Film Festival.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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