Ah! I watched Jean de Florette (1986) by Claude Berri a couple of weeks ago, and it reaffirmed my love of French cinema, with its beautiful cinematography, wonderful and realistic acting as well as its unforgiving depiction of the harsh realities of life in rural France. I tried reading the book by Marcel Pagnol at my mother’s behest, but just could not get into it – however, the film actually does do the story some justice, according to most critics.
I’d like to, but I really cannot find fault with this film; again, Gérard Depardieu brings some heavyweight acting along with the formidable Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil in the first installment of the story, which is Jean de Florette The premise concerns a former city man, the hunchback Jean Cadoret (Depardieu), who sets about making his new life with his wife and daughter, Manon, after inheriting a farm in Provence from his father. Finding water on the farm proves difficult, while the neighbouring farmer Papet (Montand) keeps his spring a secret from Jean (de Florette) .
The challenge proves overwhelming and tragedy ensues. Enter Manon Des Sources, also by Berri. (1986). The grown-up Manon, beautifully played by the stunning Emmanuelle Béart, daughter of Florette, is living off what was her father’s farm. There’s a tantalizing scene of Manon dancing naked near a tree – oooh la la! Stop it John, such perversion! Papet and his nephew Ugolin have bought Florette’s farm cheaply and their flower business begins to make them rich. Manon knows that their secret and this film is all about revenge and new beginnings, while the popularity of the older and less desired begins to fade.
The trials of the two farming families continue, and their deep hatred is mutual, until a truly heart-rending realisation arrives at Papet’s door – a letter that was never received until it was too late, much too late. One of the few films that has made me cry like a little baby, I am usually made of sterner stuff, but ladies beware there is a shock in store and even the most discerning scrutiny wil not prepare you for the film’s conclusion.
For those who like great scenery, great characters and a truly smashing storyline, get yourself down the DVD store and buy these films – you won’t regret it.
Jean de Florette: 120 mins. In French.
Manon Des Sources: 113 mins. In French.