Belvaux wrote the film with the novelist Jerome Leroy, whose 2011 book Le Bloc first introduced several ideas and characters reworked in This Is Our Land. In both stories, Pauline finds herself suspended between two opposing political poles. On one side, Berthier represents the intellectual and well-off cadre of right-wing politics. On the other is Stephane (Guillaume Gouix), a childhood flame of Pauline’s that she has started dating again, who represents the brutal, almost neo-Nazi side of the party base. Stephane, nicknamed Stanko (after his surname, Stankowiak), has an uncontrollable temper in the boxing ring and spends time with lowlifes who pester and beat up foreign-looking people.
Even more than Dorgelle, Berthier seems to be the brains behind all the necessary politicking, at least on a regional level. Though the doctor used to be on Stanko’s side and might be near to him ideologically, he’s become smart about how things work in local and national politics. He understands that a certain sense of propriety is necessary to be elected, so he tries to keep Stanko away from Pauline, his party’s poster girl whose image needs to remain spotless. There’s also a chilling scene in which new party inductees are taught how to deal with demonstrators, protestors, and journalists who ask pesky questions, and what they can and cannot say (they’re instructed to avoid the word “Arabs” and to use “riffraff” instead).
While some, including one of the National Front’s vice presidents, Steeve Briois, have accused Belvaux of presenting a caricature of an extreme-right party, the director actually depicts one that is savvy—that knows how to play the political game and no longer wants to remain on the sidelines. Through characters like the violent, bigoted chauvinist Stanko, This Is Our Land acknowledges the dangers of the growing popularity of far-right politics in general. But most of Dorgelle’s party’s members are regular people who are seduced by the more placid and somewhat more polished surface of the National Popular Rally, which talks about values and progress and national identity and which carefully weighs its words.
This Is Our Land’s insights into how a far-right political party can gain working-class support could apply to more than just the National Front or even France or Europe (some of the parallels with the rise of Trumpism are uncanny). But even so, Belvaux’s claim that the film is not strictly about the National Front is at least a little disingenuous. The blonde Dorgelle not only looks like Le Pen, but her father also founded the film’s fictional party, much like Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did. There might be a few too many coincidences like that to fully support the idea that Dorgelle is just any French right-wing leader.
Another apparent parallel: Le Pen has been responsible for somewhat softening the image of the National Front, moving it away from outright racism to more semantically acceptable forms of xenophobia. (She even ousted her own father in 2015 to help make the party more attractive for more people.) Belvaux’s film suggests what might have been happening behind the scenes to bring about this change and to what extent even apolitical people can buy into carefully composed rhetoric. That said, Dorgelle remains a supporting character throughout the film, and she doesn’t get either her comeuppance or moment of joy. This Is Our Land’s ending is squarely focused on Pauline, and her struggles with matters of the heart, more than anything political.