7 February 2012

Claude Berri's Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources (1986)

The writer most popularly associated with Provence is not Frédéric Mistral, or Jean Giono, or Henri Bosco, or even Alphonse Daudet, but Marcel Pagnol (1885–1974). Pagnol was born in Aubagne, a small town to the east of Marseille. Although his family later moved to Marseille, they spent all their holidays in the nearby hamlet of La Treille in the foothills of the rocky Barre St-Esprit, an area with a great formative influence on Pagnol, and where, as a film director, he would buy land and make the original Manon des Sources (1952), a tale of greed and retribution based on a story a local shepherd told him. Following the success of this, Pagnol wrote the novel L'Eau des collines (1962), which is in two parts – Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources, which are the titles of Claude Berri's 1986 remake.

Jean de Florette is set after World War I and stars Yves Montand as the ageing César Soubeyran (or Papet) and Daniel Auteuil as his nephew Ugolin Soubreyan, who intends to make a fortune growing and selling carnations. He wants to buy nearby property from Pique-Bouffigue, who dies in a fight and with the death of César's former friend Florette the land soon passes to her son Jean Cadoret (Gérard Depardieu), the 'Jean de Florette' of the title. Jean is an outsider because he's a former citydweller and a hunchback, which by tradition means he's a bringer of bad luck.

Jean's plan is to raise rabbits on the land but his downfall is that he is led to believe by Ugolin and César that the land has no water, the two villains having blocked the spring in an attempt destroy Jean's plans and buy the property cheaply. Their plot succeeds only too well, Jean dies in an attempt to sink a well on the property and Ugolin and César buy the land cheaply, but before the credits roll Jean's daughter Manon sees the pair all too hastily unblocking the spring and rejoicing in thoughts of wealth.

Manon des Sources is indeed Manon's story, which shows a reversal of the fortunes of the Soubeyrans. The stupid, ugly, and pathetic Ugolin falls secretly and hopelessly in love with Manon, who has grown into a beautiful young woman and who of course detests the Soubeyrans. She publicly accuses the pair of effectively murdering her father, and as her words are found to be true the lovesick Ugolin kills himself and César, who discovers all too late that Jean was his son by Florette, goes into a sleep that he knows he will never leave, after bequeathing all he owns to his granddaughter Manon (Emmanuelle Béart).

The risks of melodrama are obviously great, but in what I believe is a faithful interpretation by Claude Berri, the director skilfully sidesteps them. Nevertheless, in some scenes that I have mentioned and some that I haven't (particularly where the locals are represented), it would be difficult to ignore certain elements of stereotyping, and this is an area in which Pagnol has come in for criticism. It's still a wonderful film though.

No comments: