Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Yves Montand, Emmanuelle Beart
Director: Claude Berri
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Like a Greek tragedy in scale yet very much provincial in tone, Jean de Florette (1986) and its sequel Manon des Sources (’87) are two totally absorbing films about greed, envy, ignorance and finally justice. Spanning a decade through the 1920s the pair is the screen adaptation by director Claude Berri of a famous French novel written by Marcel Pagnol, which tells the tale of Jean (Gerard Depardieu) an ever-optimistic hunchback from the city who moves to the hills of Provence to take up an inheritance. Unaware that his jealous neighbours Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) and his uncle Papet (Yves Montand) have blocked up the property’s natural spring in a scheme to deter the new owner and buy the place themselves, Jean ploughs on convinced that he can only truly be happy if he returns to nature. Equipped with a stack of modern farming manuals and an adoring wife and child, Jean puts his back into it, hunch and all but without water his efforts are doomed. For two years he busts his gut, all under the watchful gaze of the treacherous locals. In the end he resorts to dynamite in his attempt to unearth a spring, a crazed act that eventually kills him.
The sequel picks up the story ten years down the track when Jean’s daughter Manon (Emmanuelle Beart), now a feral shepherdess, becomes the object of Ugolin’s adoration. Having spied the ravishing beauty dancing naked like a mythical nymph he goes wild with love, even stitching her hair ribbon to his left nipple. But his chances of winning her over are ruined when Manon overhears the truth about the conspiracy against her father. In a fit of justified rage she blocks off the entire town’s water supply. All the townsfolk are guilty by association and as their crops wither, just like Jeans’ before them, they look for a miracle to restore their fountains, one that only the untamed Manon can grant them.
This award-winning epic celebrates the poetry of the French countryside and features moving performances from all involved. Shot in anamorphic wide screen format the films present beautifully on DVD with ample space below frame for the English subtitles. In these days of dwindling fresh water supplies the story strikes an extra special note of caution. Beings like Jean and Manon may just be human but they represent greater forces. We upset them, and the balance of nature at our peril.