Jean De Florette Reviews
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring are more closely related than an original and sequel; they are really parts 1 and 2 of the same film, and in fact were filmed back to back.
Set in Provence around 1920 (most people still use horses, donkeys and mules, but there are a few autos around; telephones exist but are rare, the mayor is very proud to have one), the first film tells of Jean de Florette (Gerard Depardieu,) a rather intellectual bourgeois civil servant from the city who, having inherited a farm in Provence, moves his wife Aimee ( Élisabeth Depardieu, Gerard Depardieu 's real life wife at the time) and ten year old daughter Manon there, with the intention of applying scientific principles to raise vegetables and rabbits. But in the arid climate of Provence, everything depends on water: there is a plentiful spring on the property but Jean doesn't know it because his neighbors, local worthy Cesar "Le Papet" ("Gramps") Soubeyran (Yves Montand) and his rather dim nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) have blocked it up, hoping that the lack of water will cause the farm to fail, so they can buy it cheap. This tactic has tragic consequences for Jean's family. The second film recounts how ten years later Manon, now a beautiful young woman, finds both the spring and a way of revenge for what was done to her family. In the end, everyone gets more or less their just desserts.
The films have an interesting history. French writer and director Marcel Pagnol, whose play Marius was latter turned into the French film trilogy Marius/César/Fanny, which was itself remade into the 1962 Hollywood film Fanny with Leslie Caron and other big stars, made a film in 1953, Manon des Sources, telling the second part of the story; his final cut of over four hours was so drastically cut by the distributor that Pagnol disowned it, and later redid the same story as a novel, adding a prequel novel, Jean de Florette; these two books together became the basis for these films.
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring were a huge success both commercially and critically, and it's easy to see why. The Provencal settings are meticulously detailed and the landscape photography luscious. The acting is all around excellent: Gerard Depardieu and Yves Montand especially are as good as they've ever been.
These films are not perfect works of art: they are not free of sentimentality, some viewers may occasionally be confused about exactly who some of the minor characters are, and the surprise ending ties together all the loose ends so neatly that it may see rather artificial. But these are minor flaws. All in all, this is a production that I think everyone will like: it's one of those rare films that leave you with memories that seem to be of people and places you've experienced rather than seen on a screen.
Both films are available from MGM as a set of excellent quality on standard and Blu-Ray DVD.
Taking place on the photogenic French countryside, the film follows the sickening plight of two struggling farmers, Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) and his uncle Cesar (Yves Montand); they plan to drive out an incoming family, who plan to be farmers, out of their land so they can sell the property for quick profit. What's their master plan? To plug the spring that provides constant nutrition for the garden the family plans to live off of. How do they get ownership of that spring? By killing the original owner.
The twosome try every trick in the book to cause their new neighbors to leave, but Jean (Gerard Depardieu), the husband and father, won't budge, despite the fact that water is short and the weather is unbelievably dry. For months, the struggle is huge - but when (spoiler alert) Jean tragically meets his demise, and the uncle/nephew pairing of farmers come out successfully, we're left sick to our stomachs.
If there wasn't the promise of a follow-up to "Jean de Florette" in which Jean's daughter Manon (Ernestine Mazurowna) grows up (Emmanuelle Béart) and gets revenge (in the follow-up, "Manon des Sources), I swear I could have a breakdown. "Jean de Florette" is often times so heart wrenching that it's almost impossible to stand.
It starts off with a bit of sweetness; Ugolin is seen as a kind, simple man that simply wants to grow flowers for a living, and Cesar seems to be his wise, caring father-figure. But as the film goes on, their despicable acts of selfishness grow to a point where we can't help but despise them. Surely, their cruelty isn't unneeded - after all, everyone in the area in which the characters live struggle just to get by.
But seeing that the family they target, the Cadoret's, are so harmless and warm-hearted, it's somewhat hard to emphasize with them. Claude Berri, who is incredible when it comes to balancing style and hard drama, flawlessly balances the struggle each and every character has, and, despite the hatred we have for Ugolin and Cesar, we can slimly understand why they're doing what they're doing.
Ugolin and Cesar are played by Daniel Auteuil and Yves Montand, two fantastic actors from different generations, Auteuil being the up-and-coming dynamo and Montand being a respected film veteran. Their characters are difficult to truly understand, but they flesh them out in a way that makes them complex instead of being one-dimensionally diabolical. Depardieu, who gives one of his best performances, his tragic as Jean, who at first is so kind and hopeful, but by the end is turned into a depressed failure that can barely get by.
"Jean de Florette" is simply spectacular, and a feel-bad movie has never felt so good - I simply cannot wait to see how it all pans out in "Manon des Sources".