Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "JEAN DE FLORETTE"

JEAN DE FLORETTE (1987)

Director: Claude Berri
Screenplay: Claude Berri and Gerard Brach based on the novel by Marcel Pagnol




The first time I was introduced to Claude Berri's "Jean de Florette", and "Manon of the Spring," I was too young to appreciate what I was watching, and too distracted to try and fully grasp it. It was in my 10th Grade French class. My second year of French, but since I spent my freshman year at a different high school that I mistakenly went to intrigued by it’s Magnet program (which I found out later was disastrously run compared to similar programs in other states), I was basically still in recovery from an education meltdown. With a new French teacher and class, I focused all my energy on getting out of the class with a B. Well, that, and controlling my willpower and not put my hands all over the hot redhead who was a year older and way out of mine, and most college graduates’ league, who sat next to me. (Think Fiona Apple with flaming red hair) Anyway, we saw five films in that French class. “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” but in French, “The Emperor’s New Groove,” again in French, “Passport to Paris,” which was in English, but starred the Olsen Twins, so that was unbearable, and the aforementioned two films “Jean de Florette,” and “Manon of the Spring”. (Okay, we might have also seen "The Goonies," but thankfully, if we did, I have completely erased it from my memory banks.) Back then, they were long, drawn out, and boring. Now, well they are slow, but deliberately so, to fully grasp the entire effect of the two films. (They go together. “Jean de Florette,” is part one of this epic story while “Manon of the Spring,” is part two. “Manon…” is better, but you need to see “Jean…” to fully appreciate it.)  “Jean de Florette,” takes place in a small Southern French town after WWI, and Cesar Soubeyran (Yves Montand) is welcoming his nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) home from the war. Cesar is a farmer, like most of the townspeople, but he is the wealthiest farmer from the most important family of the region, a family that’s now him and Ugolin. Ugolin, wants to plant flowers and sell to town. Together, they eye a land next to there’s where the owner has just died. The land however is inherited by a tax collector from town named Jean, who has decided to move his family down and become a farmer. He is also a hunchback, which on top of being an out-of-towner, also will make him, “unliked,” by the townspeople. (Note: At one point in history it was thought that to be born a hunchback was often considered not only a sign of an unwanted child, but a child of a failed abortion.) Jean, as played by Gerard Depardieu is one of greatest performances in modern cinema. He’s a character so determined to succeed against unimaginable odds, and so joyously happy about the attempt. His performance will set up the rest of the story. It wouldn’t have been so hard on him, if he was able to find the spring on his land so he can get water, but we know early on that the Soubeyran’s have clogged that spring, and we wait and wait for Jean’s eventual demise. Released the same year as “Wall Street,” both movies are about the power of greed, but unlike the high collar stock market world of Gordon Gekko, this greed is slow. (The movie was made in '86, but wasn't released in America 'til '87, which is the year I always try to note) It takes years, to get the property, and buy it cheap, but they wait and deceive and yes, get rewarded. Director Claude Berri refuses to take a side, which then forces us to simply observe everyone’s actions, or lack of actions. The story is simple to just give the details, but a larger story is being told in subtext, that I’ll let you figure out. And, don’t worry if you can’t believe the actions of the Soubeyrans, like I said, “Manon…” is better. 
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