Jean de Florette (1986)
A film directed by Claude Berri

Genre: Drama

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.
Jean de Florette 1986 pic 1
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.
Jean de Florette 1986 pic 2
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.
Jean de Florette 1986 pic 3
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).
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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...
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Film Credits

Directed by Claude Berri
Starring: Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Elisabeth Depardieu, Margarita Lozano, Ernestine Mazurowna, Armand Meffre, André Dupon, Pierre Nougaro
[Read more...]

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