Jean de Florette (1986)



Jean de Florette photo
Early in the 1920s, tax collector Jean Cadoret gives up his life in the city to make a fresh start in Provence, with his wife Aimée and young daughter Manon. Having inherited a house and some land from his mother Florette, Jean has plans to establish a large rabbit farm, confident that he can grow enough vegetables to feed himself and his livestock. What he doesn't know is that his neighbours, Ugolin and Le Papet, have maliciously blocked up the spring that irrigates his land, so Jean is entirely at the mercy of the elements. Ugolin desperately wants to get his hands on Jean's land so that he can grow fields of carnations which, he believes, will make him rich. Le Papet is confident that by depriving Jean of a vital water supply the newcomer will soon realise his folly and return to the city. Events take a far more tragic course than anyone could have expected...
© 2012

Film Review

One of the most successful and widely acclaimed French cinema events of the 1980s, Claude Berri's blockbuster diptych Jean de Florette / Manon des sources, not only helped to revitalise French cinema at a time when the industry was in a serious state of decline but also did a great deal to promote the Provence region of France.
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The film was shot over a thirty week period on a budget of 17 million dollars, making it the most expensive French film made up until this point. Heavily promoted on its release, it was the biggest hit at the French box office in 1986 - Jean de Florette attracted an audience of 7.2 million, whilst its sequel Manon des sources (1986) achieved a respectable 6.5 million. The two-part film also had a phenomenally successful international release, taking five million at the American box office alone. Critical reaction was also generally favourable - Jean de Florette won four BAFTAs and Daniel Auteuil took the Best Actor César in 1987.

The Jean de Florette / Manon des sources film diptych is a faithful adaptation of Marcel Pagnol's two-volume novel L'Eau des collines, first published in 1963.
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The second part of the novel was based on a four-hour long film which Pagnol had already made, Manon des sources (1954), whilst the first part was a prequel which the director hoped at some point to adapt into a film (but never did). In bringing the epic novel to the big screen, director Claude Berri not only adheres religiously  to Pagnol's original story but, with the help of his cinematographer Bruno Nuytten, also manages to evoke the slow pace of life and raw beauty of the Provence region that were so much a part of Pagnol's own films. The film also serves as a subtle attack on the capitalist greed that had become conspicuous in the mid-1980s and also on the anti-immigration policies of the far right in France.

For his most ambitious film, Berri assembles a prestigious principal cast which includes three of the biggest stars of French cinema: Gérard Depardieu, Yves Montand (in one of his last screen roles) and Daniel Auteuil. The latter won considerable acclaim for his sympathetic portrayal of the tortured villain Ugolin, achieving national and international stardom as a result. Depardieu was by this stage one of French cinema's most bankable stars and turns in a characteristically robust performance, partnered by his real-life wife Élisabeth Depardieu, an actress of no mean calibre.
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As might be expected from a cast of such distinction, the performances are what most sell the film, although it clearly excels in many other areas, notably its screenwriting and camerawork. The famous Jean de Florette theme was taken from Verdi's opera La Forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) and would inspire a series of TV commercials advertising Stella Artois in the UK, which set out to parody European art house films of the period. Trivia addicts should note that the same theme had previously been appropriated by Yves Boisset for his thriller Folle à tuer (1975).

Although Jean de Florette suffers somewhat from being the first part of a two-part film (i.e. its lacks a satisfactory resolution), it is nonetheless a supremely well crafted piece of cinema which should be noted for its sumptuous cinematography and the quality of its acting. The characterisation may not be as intricate and subtly rendered as in Marcel Pagnol's own great films, and the emotionality is a little forced and unconvincing in one or two places, but overall the film is a delight, as smooth and palatable as a wine cultivated from vines in its sunny Provençal setting. For the uninitiated, there are few better introductions to French cinema than this (although it probably helps if you haven't seen the Stella ads beforehand).
The above article was written for and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


Jean de Florette won 1 César in the category of: Best Actor (Daniel Auteuil) [1987]. The film garnered 7 further César nominations for: Best Cinematography (Bruno Nuytten) [1987]; Best Director (Claude Berri) [1987]; Best Film (Claude Berri) [1987]; Best Music (Jean-Claude Petit) [1987]; Best Poster (Michel Jouin) [1987]; Best Screenplay, Original or Adaptation (Claude Berri, Gérard Brach) [1987]; and Best Sound (Pierre Gamet, Laurent Quaglio, Dominique Hennequin) [1987].

The film was also the recipient of 4 BAFTAs: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Daniel Auteuil) [1988]; Best Cinematography (Bruno Nuytten) [1988]; Best Film (Claude Berri) [1988]; and Best Screenplay - Adapted (Claude Berri, Gérard Brach) [1988].


The director Claude Berri also worked with the actor Daniel Auteuil on the films Manon des sources (1986) and Lucie Aubrac (1997).

Film Credits

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