Jean de Florette

Lawrence Russell

Jean de Florette (1987) dir. Claude Berri based on the novel Water On The Hills by Marcel Pagnol star. Gerard Depardieu (Jean), Yves Montand (Papet)

You can't say this one isn't beautifully photographed (Provence in the south of France) and that the sub-titles are illegible. Neither could you say that the film lacks a basic, workable plot -- it seems to be something borrowed from the Bible, or Leo Tolstoy.

There is a fable-like quality to the story of a man and his nephew (Ugoline) who covet their neighbour's land, accidentally murder him, plot the ruin of his successor, a hunchback tax collector from the city and succeed in choreographing his death. The moral: greed pays.

Even the villains of the piece are slyly attractive; Ugolin, recently discharged from the Guards, wants the land in order to grow carnations; his uncle merely wishes him success and wants the family to continue on the land.

The hunchback, on the other hand, is a "numbers" man who has manuals on everything and tries to farm by the book. He represents the "new" way... and sometimes has luck, such as his attempt at rabbit breeding. But lack of water is his downfall. The blocked well (about which he knows nothing) and the fickleness of Nature (which frustrates the science of his rainfall tables) combine to make his fate a tragedy of sorts. Lots of sentimentality here, but no real drama.

There is evil at the centre of things, yet nothing is made of it. The point-of-views favours sentimentality rather than morality.

No wonder the titles proudly proclaim the sanction of the Academie Francais!

© LR 3/3/88


Film Court | copyright 1999 | Lawrence Russell