Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jean de Florette

I begin on a more personal note. The film rushed back for me memories ranging from Zola to the rich tapestry of Monte Cristo - there was so much plot, there was so much earth, and there were so many parallel-running strands in the film. As I write this, I have still not attained the climax - the accompanying part, in which the daughter is to take revenge, is still remaining. But already, there is much to chew upon.

Jean de Florette is a wonderfully made film - all the actors play their parts so well, the camera is so much well-balanced, the rural character of France is so vividly brought out, and the music that backs up the film is so beautiful, poignant, and, for once, so unobtrusive in the story. The film's story is about that all-pervasive French theme - land. Desire for land takes the centrestage as brilliant acting performances stringed around it make it a wholesome experience. Yves Montand (playing Le Papet) plays a sucker of an old man, and a man with very deep brains for hatching plots - plots that succeed. This time, it's for land for his nephew (Daniel Auteuil, playing Ugolin), so that the Soubeyrans, of whom he and his nephew are the last, continue their stock and money. And, it's Gérard Depardieu (playing the title character) who becomes the victim of both the plotters.
Spurred on by his sometimes impracticable ambitions, especially when you consider that Jean's background in the film was that of a tax collector, knowledge based on books and 'statistics' (his farming plans and his all money are based on the monthly average rainfall that the books tell him!), a hatred of his being hunchbacked and at the receiving end of people always, and an inordinate capacity to see the bright side of things, make him a very, very lovable character, and one that moves you when you put in shade the schemes that the uncle-nephew duo have put in action to deprive him of water and, consequently, the farm. The film ends in tragedy, with Jean dying in another of his wild schemes. He never realises that the man whom he has put his all trust into, and who his wife and ten-year old daughter do not like, that Ugolin is the man who's ruining him, slowly killing him, and desiring even his daughter.
No, I am not running ahead into the second film. There are several unpicked threads in the film. When Ugolin encounters Manon (Jean's daughter) for the first time, inspite of the latter being a child, he is struck vehemently and stares for half a minute or so at her, forgetting everything else. Of course, the rest of the thread is to be picked in the second film, "Manon des Sources." Why is Ugolin, otherwise a man who is guilty to some degree over his ruining Jean (in contrast to his uncle, who is totally heartless), attracted to her, a child? Is it because Ugolin is uncouth, not educated, and still knows to be amazed at education (as he evinces so many times when confronted with Jean's bookish knowledge; "the othentics"), and in front of him is a charming girl, with firm grounding in education, not bombastic like her father, but cool and, you feel, more pragmatic? But, in order to grow flowers (Ugolin covets the land as his ambition is to grow carnations), he has, unknowingly to himself, already driven out the flower in his life! There's something else in the film which struck me forcibly - why does Jean de Florette hate the city life so much, when to all accounts he had a good salaried life there? Is it because he was born and bred up, as a hunchback, in an urban set-up, and has all the taunts in-drilled in him? Or, even more importantly, he wants to be "self-sufficient" - a rural farmer's life, based in his homestead, where he has minimal contact with fellow men, where he can live the way he wants and raise his family, where his being a hunchbacked does not matter?
The film has been beautifully shot. I could feel the hot perspiration on myself when I saw Jean toiling in the hills for trickles of water - this is always a litmus test for any beautiful film. You know then that the director has caught the moment.

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