Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring — This pair of award-winning dramas tell the story of a farmer who falls victim to a cruel scheme by his neighbors, and the comeuppance later delivered by the man’s daughter. This is a two-part film that was released as two separate features telling a complex story of intertwined farming families. Taken together, this is a classic tale from the Provence countryside in southern France shortly after the First World War. The story begins with a simple premise: two greedy local farmers scheme to trick a newcomer out of his newly inherited property to buy his land at a discounted price; however, it gradually evolves into a plot that I would compare to a Greek tragedy set in the French countryside. Jean de Florette stars three of France’s most prominent actors – Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, who won a BAFTA award for his performance, and Yves Montand in one of the last roles before his death. Yves Montand, one of the most suave men in history is completely believable as a rough hewn, self-centered farmer. Gerard Depardieu, cast against type as a gentle educated city-born man trying to make it as a farmer, also is astounding. Almost as good is Daniel Auteuil as Montand’s not-very-bright son. In the story, two men (Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil) block the water source at a spring that a new farmer Jean (Gérard Depardieu) needs for his crops. The movie starts out slow, but every detail will be meaningful later, so watch carefully. This is a story about starting life over in a new setting when you’re not so young. But people there have plans of their own. Jean is actually coming home to roost, and tries to make the best of it. Jean has such a wonderful zest for life that sets up the tragedy. No matter how hard the evil neighbors try and drive him out, he’s steadfast in his resolution to stay and make a life for himself. This story tells about the human heart; it can be soaring, full of hope and dreams, or it can be deceitful, self-serving. When this movie ended, we wanted more. In Manon of the Spring, Jean’s grown daughter (Emmanuelle Beart) goes after the two men with a vengeance. Manon of the Spring is so beautiful, and so satisfying after watching the first part Jean de Florette. Together, these movies weave lives together over time, and tell a story that is simply tragic. In Manon of the Spring, the story comes to its dramatic peak. Be warned that your emotions will be taken on a roller coaster ride. These are two of the most satisfying movies I’ve seen in a long time. There is love, family, quarrels, meanness, kindness, downright wickedness, beauty — all set in the French countryside. At the time the most expensive French film ever made, it was a great commercial and critical success, both domestically and internationally, and was nominated for eight César awards, and ten BAFTAs. In the long term the films did much to promote the region of Provence as a tourist destination. I would like to add that it could also be interpreted as a parable for the deadly land squabbles that happened over Alsace-Lorraine, the disputed borderland between France and Germany. If you like good movies, don’t miss this pair. To play the sequel Manon of the Spring, you have to flip the disk over — it’s a double sided DVD. Claude Berri directs. Drama 1986 PG 234 minutes.
See also another pair of films based on the stories of Pagnol: Marius / Fanny
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