email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on reddit pin on Pinterest

FANTASIA 2022

Review: A Life on the Farm

by 

- Cat funerals and skeletons on tractors abound in Oscar Harding's tender yet troubling documentary

Review: A Life on the Farm

There is a lot of teasing going on in A Life on the Farm, a tiny documentary shown at Montreal’s Fantasia and built around a mysterious VHS tape left behind by a Somerset farmer. “I don’t know where to even begin with this story,” goes the opening and other people soon follow, all advertising the craziness you are about to see. It could be annoying but luckily, they do have a point.

Director Oscar Harding, revisiting a hazy childhood memory after a decade or so, does stumble onto something pretty unusual here. His late grandfather’s neighbour, one Charles Carson, used to film his life on the farm. Why? Who the hell knows. For his own entertainment, apparently, but this isn’t All Creatures Great and Small. Carson’s work was odd, macabre even, with people who saw it describing it as “dark, but friendly dark” or “just like a fucking horror movie.”

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

It was also hilarious at times, even though Harding doesn’t really have enough material for a feature and even Carson’s weirdness gets repetitive by the end. He didn’t just film what was happening in his life – he had some fun with it first. Horses would take his hat off and he captured lots of cow birth footage (and even a close up of a cow’s placenta) but he would also stage things, such as his cat’s funeral, for example, putting treats on little Paddy’s grave so that other cats could “give their respects” and then, once satisfied with the result, delivering his catchphrase of sorts, “That’s life on the farm.”

This all sounds quirky enough to appeal to many, but there is more to the story: A Life on the Farm is a film not only about someone with a drive to create, but also about the kind of loneliness that just eats you alive. Carson lost his family. He would document his parents’ fragility and old age, up until their deaths, creating bittersweet comics out of old photos. Someone mentions that after his mother’s passing, he would still wheel her around for three days, mostly so that the farm animals could say their goodbyes. In a way, this whole film is about saying goodbye, over and over again, until there is no one to say goodbye to anymore, and no one to share the “lovely time on the farm” with.

These elements make Harding’s film surprisingly sad, even though the image of Carson’s dead mother, still sitting somewhere in her chair, gives off strong Psycho vibes. “Slightly bizarre, I suppose” sums up a local. But Harding – or the people he talks to about Carson, from VHS collectors to a man described as a “poet and undertaker” – never goes too dark with this tale. Based on the ending alone, more sentimental than troubling, he might be already setting the ground for that crowd-pleasing fictionalised adaptation to come in the future. Come to think of it, Jim Broadbent would be terrific in it.

A Life on the Farm was produced by Oscar Harding, Edward Lomas and Dominik Platen and is a Sonderbar Pictures production.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy