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A moving tale of innocence versus greed & envy
Jean De Florette (DVD)
Member Name: indychick_uk
Jean De Florette (DVD)
Date: 02/11/01, updated on 02/11/01 (252 review reads)
Advantages: Wonderful cast, Beautiful scenery, Touching story
Disadvantages: French with subtitles - although I personally don't think it's a disadvantage some people migh...
Jean de Florette and it’s sequel, Manon des Sources, were filmed in 1986 by director Claude Berri and are a wonderful interpretation of the highly regarded French novel, Water on the Hills, by Marcel Pagnol. Filmed in French, with English sub-titles, the cast includes Gerard Depardieu, Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil.
Although the two films are two halves of the same story, Jean de Florette (and to a lesser extent Manon) can be enjoyed as a film in it’s own right and so this review is solely about Jean de Florette. If you do watch Jean de Florette I would urge you to watch Manon as well to appreciate the entire story as Pagnol intended.
Set in Provence in the 1920’s, Jean tells the story of a hunchback who inherits a farm and struggles against the prejudice and jealousy of the local community. It is a tale of innocence, in the form of Jean, versus greed in the form of his neighbours.
Jean (Gerard Depardieu), a tax inspector and a hunchback, inherits a farm in Provence and moves there with his wife (Elisabeth Depardieu) and daughter. Before Jean arrives to take possession of his farm, the village gossip has been of “the hunchback” from the city and everyone assumes that he will sell the land, as a city-bred hunchback would obviously not be capable of running a farm. It is further assumed that the Soubeyran’s, CÚsar known as “Le Papet” (Yves Montand) and his nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil), will purchase the farm and they have already formulated a plan to grow carnations and make their fortune.
When it becomes clear that Jean intends to stay and farm the land himself, Le Papet and Ugolin undertake a campaign to force him off the land. They put this into force by blocking the natural spring, and only source of water, on Jean’s land and hiding it’s existence from him.
Jean has no knowledge of farming but he has great faith in “modern scientifi
c principles” and he has formulated a plan to raise rabbits based on his collection of almanacs and encyclopaedias. He invests in a pedigree buck and breeds his own “super-rabbit” to the delight of his wife and daughter. Disaster strikes as summer arrives and the lack of a water source on the farm begins to seem an insurmountable problem. Jean is undaunted however and quotes the average rainfall statistics from his almanac to prove his plan his foolproof.
Le Papet and Ugolin treat Jean’s innocence and enthusiasm, and his faith in his “scientific principles” with ridicule. Whilst Ugolin makes a pretence of being a helpful neighbour, he and his Uncle begin to paint a picture to the locals of a half-wit who will soon give up and move away.
Jean struggles valiantly in the face of local resistance and the uncompromising Provence climate, which provides copious rain on the opposite side of the valley but none on his land. He becomes increasingly more desperate, yet each time Ugolin and Le Papet believe he will have to give up and sell to them, he conjures up some new idea from his books to solve his problems. Ugolin, as their nearest neighbour, worms his way into Jean's trust in order to find out his plans for the farm and becomes, as Jean believes, a friend.
The financial situation worsens and, as each new plan fails, Jean’s wife becomes disheartened and concerned for the effect their life is having upon her husband. Their clear love for each other means that she continues to support him and tries to shield him from the worst of their problems, even pawning a treasured necklace without telling him.
Eventually Jean's enthusiasm proves his undoing and work on the farm brings about his death. He dies having never met Le Papet, who has hidden from his rival, and so never knowing that he was being plotted against or that the answer to his problems, the spring, was deliberately hidden from h
After his death, Jean’s wife and daughter are forced to sell to Le Papet and move away but not before Jean’s daughter, Manon, witnesses Ugolin and Le Papet unblock the spring and celebrate their victory. The film ends with Manon running away with the knowledge that those who pretended to be their friends caused her fathers death.
The saga of Jean de Florette is a tale of innocence, greed, revenge and an inextinguishable spirit. As the film progresses we see Jean descending further and further towards madness yet he holds on tenaciously to his theories of farming. Le Papet schemes from a distance and sets his nephew to driving Jean off the land yet never seems to have any remorse about the effect he is having on the young family. Ugolin finds himself torn between a growing liking and respect for Jean and his family and his own ambition and we see him wavering only to be driven on by his uncle. Jean’s acceptance of his neighbours on face value and his inability to think they may be plotting against him could make him appear a slightly pathetic figure but he is played brilliantly by Depardieu and inspires nothing but sympathy. Particularly as the answer to all his problems, water, is literally under his nose all the time.
The other main character in the story is the land itself. The director uses the Provence scenery to great effect, you can feel the heat and taste the dust in your mouth. Jean begins to rant against the land and the weather and sees them as his enemy. We watch as the uncompromising landscape and the fickle climate squash his spirit.
Teamed with this stunning visual setting is a haunting soundtrack (this is where that Stella Artois tune comes from) by Jean-Claude Petit. These elements work brilliantly together to produce a wonderfully atmospheric film and it comes as little surprise that one of the four British Academy Awards that the film won was for Best Cinematography. The ot
her three were for Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Auteuil) with Montand and Depardieu both being nominated for Best Actor and Claude Berri nominated for Best Director. The film was also nominated for eight “Cesars”, the awards of the Academie Francais and was a commercial success in France as well as a critical one.
It is perhaps a pity that, being filmed in French, it did not reach a wider audience but, for those of us in on the secret, it’s exclusivity is something of an asset. A little like finding an unspoilt island or beach for your holiday. I absolutely adore this film, and it’s sequel, and get through a box of tissues every time I watch it. The fact that it has subtitles detracts nothing from the story, in fact so much of the film is visual that the dialogue is secondary. Some of my favourite scenes are between Jean and his daughter showing how much she idealises her father and sowing the seeds for the sequel, Manon.
Jean de Florette is a simple, moving story, which will touch even the hardest heart. Even if you think you don't like foreign films, or subtitles, you should watch this film. It is beautifully filmed and very powerful and is, rightly, the most popular foreign language film in the world, ever.