Thursday, February 23, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "MANON OF THE SPRING"

MANON OF THE SPRING {aka MANON DES SOURCES} (1987)

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



“Manon of the Spring, (aka ‘Manon des Sources’),” finishes the story that began with “Jean de Florette.” It’s been ten years after Jean’s death, Ugolin’s (Daniel Auteuil) flower business is going strong, with rows of carnations lined up on the land he bought from Jean’s widow after he literally worked himself to death. But, Cesar (Yves Montand) is concerned, because his nephew has yet to take a wife, and continue the Soubeyran name. Meanwhile, Jean’s daughter Manon (Emmanuelle Beart) has remained around since her father’s death, as currently lives as a shepherdess just outside of the small town, and has been educated and has become quite beautiful. A teacher who is new to the town has learned this after running into her while digging some dirt to show his class how the springs in the town bring water. Also learning this knowledge, is Ugolin, who also sees her again and falls head over heels for her, determined to win her over. (If you haven’t figured by now, not only is Ugolin fairly unflattering to the eye, but he’s a little slow on the uptake.)

We however have the knowledge that Manon knows what Ugolin and Cesar have done to her father, as we saw at the end of “Jean…”, so instead of this movie becoming a bizarre love triangle… Well, I can’t quite figure out just how to put this without giving away a major plot point that really should be discovered by the viewers as they watch, but let’s just say Manon gets her revenge, and in a more than fitting way, and not just on Cesare and Ugolin, but on the entire town. This is just the beginning, as suddenly from this epic-length, slow-moving tale of greed and power, this movie emerges and becomes a Greek tragedy, complete with a blind woman, who suddenly arrives to fill in missing details like an oracle giving the fate of another, and more importantly, knowledge that would’ve changed everything if it weren’t for factors that were completely out of everyone’s hands.

I once compared “Manon of the Spring,” to the movie that “The Godfather Part III” should have been. In hindsight, that isn’t a fair comparison. For one, “Godfather Part III,” despite its faults, isn’t that bad. There are similarities. A powerful leader of a powerful family left without an ability to continue the name, a small town that’s run on corruption, and not to mention a young girl who will effect the actions of a man who doesn’t really know better. This movie just as accurately applies to people who were working at Freddie Mac and/or Fannie Mae, Enron, or to any corrupt regime or business that fails. This film even makes a case for intelligence and education over ignorance and prayer. Water, and it’s importance is the key metaphor is both movies, but do not be completely deceived, this movie is about revenge, not only on those who do the acts, but also against those who watch and do nothing to prevent the people from performing them. The ending is not one that comes out as much surprise to a thoughtful viewer, but it does come as a correct one for the story. We can pick and choose sides and sympathies with the characters all we want, but Claude Berri tells this story about as neutral as possible, making the events come off as the eventual, unavoidable destinies of the characters, instead of unfortunate collateral damage. I said this film was a Greek tragedy, and I’m not understating it.

A couple other things, this film will not have the effect it has without seeing “Jean de Florette,” and Gerard Depardieu’s performance in that film, (most places where you’d find this film have both films together as a package,) and the second thing is that these films should be seen together. They were made together with the full intention of being shown together as an epic whole. Part one is what happens and part two is the aftereffects and the punishments thereof.
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