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France 1986
Directed by
Claude Berri
116 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Jean De Florette

Jean de Florette is a heart-breaking story of idealistic optimism defeated by cynical pragmatism as a naive town-dweller (Gérard Depardieu) tries to establish his text-book farm while a couple of cunning and avaricious neighbours (Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil) plot his undoing.

Berri's multi-award winning film, based on Marcel Pagnol's novel of the same name, is irresistibly engaging whilst being only occasionally sentimental. Beautifully filmed by ace cinematographer Bruno Nuytten, no-one does this sort of tasteful high-end art cinema better than the French and Berri is a particularly skilled practitioner of the style. Yet even if glossed by the charm of Provence's idyllic countryside the story is not so removed in time that anyone who has ever dreamed of going rural can't relate to it and this helps considerably in giving the film an emotional kick.

Depardieu (accompanied by his real-life wife, Elisabeth, playing a corresponding part) is in his element as the romantically-optimistic hunchback but Montand and Auteuil, in what is arguably the latter's finest screen performance to date, are outstanding in bringing to life the peasant cunning and cupidity that destroys Jean's dream. The only significant criticism, especially relevant because the seasons are so important to the subject, is that there is no sense of the passage of time, to the point that a whole year appears to have been conveniently passed over without us being aware of it.

FYI: The film was followed the same year by a less engaging sequel, Manon des Sources.




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