Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring

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					"Jean de Florette," (1986), and its sequel (although, really, it’s simply a continuation of
the story), MANON OF THE SPRING, constitute a singular French drama, a mouth-
watering, award-winning color film. It is set apparently, in the early 20th century, in
Provence, in the gorgeous, fertile south of France, and tells a bittersweet tale of life
among the peasantry of the time. It is based on a novel, with which I am not familiar, by
the noted French author Marcel Pagnol, with whose work, I regret, I am also not familiar,
although I believe the author was also a screenwriter of note. It was adapted for the
screen and directed by Claude Berri. The original score was written, and performed by
Jean-Claude Petit and his orchestra; there are musical snatches throughout of the opera
Verdi: La forza del destino by Guiseppi Verdi.

Central to the tale are the schemings of Cesar Soubeyran, known as "Le Papet" locally,
wealthy, almost last survivor of a dynasty of hard-working, successful peasants, and
treated with great respect in the village. As played by the magnetic, older Yves Montand,
(Wages Of Fear [DVD] [1952]]), he is as hard a man as his long life has made him. Then,
his possibly not all there nephew Ugolin, played by Daniel Auteil, always so successful at
playing not particularly bright characters (The Closet [DVD] [2001]) comes home from
his stint in the army. The older man is anxious to see his nephew married, with children,
settled locally, and making a living before his illnesses end his life. Accordingly, Cesar
has his eye on a plot of land that adjoins his holdings, and several healthy looking girls in
the village.

But the land the Soubeyran family covets is sold to an outsider, a tax collector civil
servant, a luckless hunchback played by the magnificent Gerard Depardieu, (Green Card
[DVD] [1991]).who comes bearing some regulation outsiders' French name, and a family
to support. However, if Jean had been called by the name he should have been in the
village, had they known who he really was, he would have been known locally as Jean de
Florette, the title character. At any rate, the Soubeyrons, Cesar and Ugolin, pretend to
befriend and help the naive and generous hunchback, who is inexperienced in farming,
but has many ambitious plans, some of which are entirely unsuited for the location.
Nevertheless,the Soubeyrons secretly work against the would-be farmer, most
importantly by depriving him of water.

Greedy, cruel behavior to be sure, with tragic consequences. MANON picks up the story
of the Soubeyran family, as a tale of revenge. . We begin "Manon" with a glimpse of the
title character, the daughter of Jean de Florette., in the person of the beautiful
Emmanuelle Beart(Nathalie [DVD] [2003]). After the death of her father, which she
believes was caused by the Soubeyrans, she has grown up largely on her own, as her
mother has had to seek work elsewhere. Manon is rather an uneducated wild child as a
result: she has kept herself alive by being a shepherdess, in addition hunting small birds
for sale. She decides to take revenge against the village that allowed the Soubeyrans to
behave as they did, and deprives the village of its water, causing great chaos and
consternation. Ugolin is deeply in love with her, but she, of course, will have nothing to
do with him: she rather fancies the handsome young local schoolteacher, who is,
however, miles above her in the village's social order.
The film(s) are moving, powered by the work of their stars, as these characters work out
their destinies, and reach a somewhat surprising conclusion: not the one for which Cesar
had hoped, but one he can appreciate. Their visual leitmotif, the red carnations, will stick
in your mind long afterwards. JEAN was nominated for a Golden Globe, and won
several other awards. The films may be thought to have dated a bit, to be a bit too reliant
on coincidence. Still, they seem to me grounded in reality. We watch the first telephones
and automobiles creep into town, the appearance of new styles of dress. And I believe
that French peasants, any peasants really, have historically wanted only certain things:
land, with water on it; real gold, not paper scrip, and the success and survival of their
families. A memorable piece of film-making that deals with great issues and truths in its
way, and an enjoyable one, too.

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