CAPSULE: THIS FILTHY EARTH (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Andrew Kötting

FEATURING: Rebecca Palmer, Shane Attwooll, Demelza Randall, Xavier Tchili

PLOT: A cruel framer destroys young Francine’s humble but idyllic life when he marries her sister for her land.

Still from This Filthy Earth (2001)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This weirded-up anti-pastoral portrait of agrarian sin would certainly find champions among this site’s readers; but although it shows artistry, it lacks the necessary significance to be compete as one of the best weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS: The key images in This Filthy Earth occur in a postmortem montage: time-lapse photography of decaying corpses of a rabbit, fox and pigeon. Time is so compressed that their bodies seem to explode into a writhing mass of worms in an instant. Decay and rot are the movie’s reality, and the fecundity of the “filthy” earth is only implied by the massive sheaves of wheat that must be reaped in the farmers’ fields (which themselves lead to death from overwork, continuing the cycle). There are lots of time-lapse shots in this movie, along with blurry, out-of-focus shots, weaving drunken cameras, stock footage, and bits shot in Super-8 with out-of-balance color. These digressive video doodads, done in the experimental tradition of , are not always as meaningful as the rotting corpses, nor do they always fit well into the gritty naturalism of the story, any more than does the anachronistic electronica soundtrack. Combined with explicit shots of rutting cattle (and humans) along with pus, urine, and pigs rooting in filth, they do create a nightmarish pastoral, however, sort of an English countryside version of Gummo.

This Filthy Earth was loosely adapted from Emile Zola’s “La Terre” (“The Earth”), a sprawling novel about the 19th French peasantry that was deemed obscene on publication due to its depictions of casual sex, incest, blasphemy, and general degeneracy among the lower classes. This may explain some confusion in the plot; certain minor characters (like “Jesus Christ”), formally major players, serve no real function in the condensed narrative. The ending of the novel has been changed significantly, and, surprisingly, lightened; Zola’s truly horrific and disturbing rape here passes by as an almost mundane occurrence. However controversial, “La Terre” had a sociological purpose in documenting an agrarian society at a very specific place and time. This Filthy Earth is set in a nameless village in an indeterminate time period that could be anywhere from the 1960s to the present day. Unfortunately, rather than making the setting timeless, these dislocations in time and space remove context from the despair, making the movie unpleasantly nihilistic in tone.

This Filthy Earth was barely screened in Britain, and received virtually no distribution at all outside the country. Nonetheless, the film was released on Region 2 DVD by the British Film Institute with a thick pamphlet, one that unfortunately contains some of the worst examples of obscurantist academic film writing (along with one much better piece by John Roseveare and some humorous tidbits from Kötting). Americans with multi-region players may want to turn on close captioning to help with the accents, particularly when the toothless father speaks (to the untrained ear, his incoherent second-childhood babbling is often indistinguishable from the obscene insults he hurls at his children).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… mixes a grainy, indistinct celluloid and smudged sound with a kind of magic-lantern effect of still images, giving a faintly hallucinatory, ahistorical feel to an uproariously grim tale.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “kostman,” who described it as a “weird film based on Emil Zola’s novel La Terre with its grotesque country scenery and the sick relations between the village’s people .” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

4 thoughts on “CAPSULE: THIS FILTHY EARTH (2001)”

  1. Good review, as usual.

    I really can’t help but wonder what sort of point the director was trying to make with this film. It’s not like any society as backward as the one in this film actually exists in Europe, not in the last 100 years.

    1. Kotting is primarily an experimental visual filmmaker. This is really his only narrative film (that I know of). I don’t think he is primarily interested in making a larger point or moral, it’s mainly just an experimental film that happens to have a narrative structure. I think that very fact lends this project a certain emptiness.

  2. I have never read Emil Zola; I went into this movie blind. I soon thought it was a story written by someone brilliant, so I think the movie worked. I find the negative reviews reek of prudishness. People that want others to do all their butchering for them and pretend like they only get to see and eat the pretty, finished product. They are blind to the fact that the revulsion they felt and blame it on plot errors and such are the entire POINT to the movie. Maybe the sisters were used to all the mud and dirt and filth (and Jesus and Joey), like we are used to our clean refrigerators of food; but they saw revulsion in the rapes and brutality. These reviewers probably saw the rapes as something they see in movies or read about all the time and are not revulsed. But cut open an animal or watch one rot, well, that’s too much for them so they criticise away. I think they did Emil Zola proud.

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