A Peasant’s Life: 10 Essential Movies About Farms and Farmers

2020 and 2021 have really been about me watching movies. Just like everybody else, I was forced to stay home due to the pandemic and decided to take this opportunity to watch as many movies as possible, especially the ones that had been on my watch-list for years. With that, I’ve decided to make a list of some movies I’ve watched that have a theme in common: farming.

From must-watch classics to neverending epics, the world of farming has been explored throughout the years of film history by many different directors and film genres. Despite this being an activity that has never been part of my life nor one that I take interest in, this world of crops, cattle, harvest, and labor has generated life-changing cinematic experiences that range a variety of rich themes such as the importance of community, the greed of capitalism, the simplicity of men, and the search for one’s purpose. Here are some essential masterpieces about farming.

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The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) by Ermanno Olmi

Probably the most important and faithful movie about farmers ever made, this Ermanno Olmi’s Palm d’Or Winner is so brutally realistic that there are moments you forget you are actually watching a fiction piece. Shot on a real farm from the early 20th Century in Bergamo, The Tree of Wooden Clogs is a three-hour odyssey about the lives of five peasant families who live together. Without really following a straight narrative, we watch the lives of these people while they work, sleep, have fun, eat, get married, and bear children through a mise en scene that despite coming from neorealism, it also evokes poetry and magic realism. The result is a trip to a long-forgotten world where humility and humanity were still very present in our community.

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The Emigrants (1971) and The New Land (1972) by Jan Troell

Based on the serial novel by Vilhelm Moberg about a Swedish family of farmers who decide to move to America in the late 19th Century, The Emigrants and The New Land are Jon Troell’s epic masterpieces starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Eddie Axberg. With almost seven hours in length combined, these two films are probably one of the most beautiful and faithful depictions of the hardships farmers faced in Sweden at that time, and the difficulties they had to endure to move to a new country. While I consider The Emigrants a far better movie than The New Land, is impossible not to see them as a whole for they tell the complete story of what many of our ancestors have gone through, and how their stories shaped the lives we live right now.

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Satantango (1994) by Béla Tarr

Satantango may not be your typical film about farmers but it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience for being one of the longest movies ever made. Based on the novel by László Krasznahorkai, it tells the story of a community that suffers the impacts of the collapse of a collective farm in Hungary. More than being a film about a story, Satantango is a mesmerizing exercise of time that defies cinema’s logic. With outstanding black and white cinematography and long single takes, Béla Tarr’s builds a nihilistic horror tale about human degradation, chaos, and conformism. All of that through a narrative that just like a tango, goes back and forth to show us the decay of humanity through the perspective of Hungarian farmers who have nothing else to lose.

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Jean de Florette (1986) and Manon of the Spring (1986) by Claude Berri

Another movie that is divided into two different films is this masterpiece written by Marcel Pagnol and directed by Claude Berri. Starring Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, and Emmanuelle Béart, the movie follows the lives of two farmers who decide to ruin their new neighbor’s farm so they can buy it at a cheaper price. After many twists and turns, these two films take you to places you would never imagine yourself going, resulting in an impressive 4-hour odyssey with beautiful cinematography and incredible performances, making Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring one of the best and most important French films of the 1980s.

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1900 (1976) by Bernardo Bertolucci

Another movie that isn’t shy in length, this 5-hour Italian epic starring Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu follows the lives of two boys who are born on the same day in 1901. While one of them is the son of a rich landlord, the other is the son of one of the landlord’s peasants. With that, Bertolucci builds a social study about similar characters who are on the opposite side of the spectrum, with the rise of fascism in Italy in the background until the arrival of communism. And of course, Bertolucci being Bertolucci, 1900 is a film full of grotesques, shocking, and provoking scenes, where he uses the lives of peasants and landlords to explore the social-political environment of Italy throughout the first part of the 20th Century. The result is a little long but definitely worth your while.

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Here is Your Life (1966) by Jan Troell

Previously mentioned in the 14 Movies to Watch Before You Turn 14 article, Here is Your Life is another rustic odyssey by Jan Troell about a young man who starts working in the rural part of Sweden after the first World War. Also based on a serial novel, this debut by Jan Troell is a beautiful and poetic coming-of-age story about a young man discovering death, love, loneliness, and sex through several people, jobs, and places. The result is a magnificent film that explores the rural part of Sweden and its farms through a beautiful black and white cinematography that talks more about life than many similar movies out there.

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A Hidden Life (2019) by Terrence Malick

Despite being released in 2019, I already consider A Hidden Life not only the best Terrence Malick film to date but also one of my favorite movies of all time. Based on the real-life story of Franz Jägerstätter —  an Austrian man who was executed for refusing to fight the war for Hitler when summoned — Malick’s film leaves the political motives aside to build a film about faith, and the importance of questioning what is right and wrong, even when we stand completely alone. The majority of the film focuses on the daily life of Franz, his wife, and his kids at their farm, and how their decision affects their relationship with other farmers, and the community around them. Through a breath-taking cinematography, A Hidden Life uses nature and farming as a tool for communication with one’s soul and believes, resulting in a film as beautiful and intimate as The Tree of Life.

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Truth and Justice (2019) by Tanel Toom

Probably the most obscure title on this list, Truth and Justice is an Estonian movie based on a serial novel by A. H. Tammsaare about a couple who buys a farm and faces many difficulties with the land and the next-door neighbor. Being somewhat similar to Jan Troell’s previously mentioned films, Truth and Justice stands out for its incredible cinematography and production design, being built in a format similar to classics from the past. By presenting us the different generations of this family, Tanel Toom creates a beautiful and realistic story about family, tradition, and conflict set on an Estonian farm in 1807.

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Pelle the Conqueror (1987) by Billie August

Being the second Palm d’Or winner of this list and the second film featuring Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror evokes the same feelings of The New Land and The Tree of Wooden Clogs by telling the story of a father and a son who move from Sweden to Denmark in search of a better life. Through the point of view of a 12-year-old, Billie August shines a light on the prejudice and hardship immigrants faced in the country at the turn of the century, especially on farms, where workers were submitted to degrading living conditions. The result is a beautiful coming-of-age film about survival with a devastating ending.

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Days of Heaven (1978) by Terrence Malick

And how not to finish this list with probably the most famous movie about farms and crops ever made? Curiously enough, Days of Heaven was released in the same year as The Tree of Wooden Clogs, which is probably also the only thing these two movies have in common. Terrence Malick’s film is an outstanding, breath-taking, and life-changing experience about a couple who travels to a farm to work through the crop season, and ends up in a love triangle with the farm owner. The result is literally one of the most beautiful movies ever made.

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