Thursday, November 19, 2015

Classic French movies

The Tuesday afternoon free film series at the Cape Cod Comunity College usually shows foreign films. Often I have not seen them but I had seen the two shown in the last two weeks, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring -- a pair that tell a story that is classic in French film, so well told, so full of place and social commentary that it seems to have been made from a grand, classic novel. In fact, there is no novel, the two are the  creation of the film maker.

They are set in early 20th century in a small town and countryside around it, in Provence, life is not easy, much depends on water from natural springs and the unpredictable rains of summer. Ugolin returns from military service determined to earn his living growing carnations to sell in the local market.  He is mentored by his uncle, a local landowner, intent on maintaining his family's lost status in the area. 

A newcomer arrives to live in the near-by house, once a part of  the estate. He is a hunchback from the "city" with books on agriculture, a wife and a little daughter. He is a menace with his plans to raise rabbits and plant a garden.  A spring is stopped up so that when summer drought arrives, the newcomer's plans are ruined.  One  thing leads to another and eventually Jean dies trying to dynamite a well. The neighbors unstop the well, but the little girl sees them as the family is leaving.

Ten years later the little girl, now a beautiful young woman, returns to the house, lives alone, raising goats. Ugolin falls madly in love with her but he is both ugly and lumpish and totally under his
uncle's plotting rule. Through a beautifully paced series of events the girl (Manon) discovers the source the town's water supply and in her turn stops that spring. That is only the first of the twists at the end of the story. It is so well known that it's not a spoiler to say that eventually the uncle discovers the hunchback was a son he  didn't know he had and remorse for his greed leaves both men dead.

This synopsis does not do justice to the richness of the story.  Yves Montand is the uncle. The films are complex, beautifully acted and filmed in an area that is stark, and fascinating.  I rarely either see films twice or read books twice, but this was very worth seeing again. 

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