There’s not a haystack in sight in “Harvest,” a slight but sweet gay romance involving two apprentice farmers that thankfully avoids the most obvious cliches. Set in Germany’s rural Brandenburg region, this feature debut by Budapest-born filmmaker Benjamin Cantu allows its fictional love story to develop against a documentary backdrop, which gives the pic a realistic edge as well as a dash of working-class humor. Though its initially unfocused screenplay and lackluster lensing, especially in nighttime sequences, stand in the way of a wider commercial breakout, pic will be embraced by LGBT auds on the fest circuit and in ancillary.
Pic was shot in the Nuthe Urstrom valley some 40 miles south of the German capital, where Cantu found a large farm whose owners run a program for adolescents studying agriculture. The actors playing the two young protagonists, Lukas Steltner and Kai-Michael Mueller, are professional thesps, but the other adolescent students, as well as the farm’s personnel, all simply play themselves.
Lanky, withdrawn Marko (Steltner) comes from a broken home, but his no-nonsense tutor, Karin (Karin Butsch), makes it clear she won’t accept that as an excuse for sloppy work or bad grades. A loner who’s mocked by his peers for buying organic food and never drinking alcohol, Marko’s unsure what he really wants out of life, which includes whether he wants to be a farmer or not, despite being only weeks away from his final exams.
Enter Jacob (Mueller), a new boy with a rebellious head of curls who’s just quit vocational training at a bank to join the others at the farm. Initially lost and somewhat clumsy — a scene of him filling a water wagon gets a big laugh — Jacob soon turns into an affable and confident presence who seems to have found what he really likes, which, somewhat to Marko’s surprise, seems to include hanging out with him.
Marko, being generally unsure of just about everything in life, doesn’t know how to handle either his feelings for Jacob or Jacob’s emerging feelings for him, the latter expressed by Mueller in a series of increasingly cocky stolen glances. A shared moment in a car seals the deal for both, though not without some drama, and the next day they escape together to the big city up north for a revealing all-nighter.
Though he coaxes naturalistic perfs from the non-pro supporting players as well as his leads, tyro scribe-helmer Cantu isn’t a very disciplined storyteller. The first reels feel esaspecially aimless, with characters drifting in and out of a tale that no particular p.o.v. This is at least partially compensated for by the film’s attention to observational detail, keeping things grounded in the day-to-day reality of crop farming and cattle rearing. And the low-key but perfect final shot perfectly captures the story’s chaste but life-affirming message, sending auds out on a high note.
Earthy colors dominate Alexander Gheorghiu’s lensing on HD, which was mostly done outdoors during overcast days. The nighttime sequences in Berlin, apparently shot with only available light, are especially flat and lack details in the darker areas. Other tech contributions are modest.
Original title translates as the more poetic “City, Country, River,” though it’s a lake rather than a river that’s used as a location for swimming and sunbathing in the film.