Friday, October 29, 2010

Manon des Sources (1986)

(For entry on Jean de Florette, refer here.) Borne on by the beautiful music of Jean de Florette and the strong presence of Yves Montand, the second part of this Marcel Pagnon saga spread across generations, Manon des Sources (int'l title: Manon of the Spring), is resolved to balance out the injustice and play the judgement game; and as a story, it suffers a lot on that count. Emmanuelle Béart might be very pretty, but she also looks hardly the role of an intelligent, wild woman: and her shortage of acting skills are in full evidence. The issue here is that she is playing the title character, and as much as Yves Montand can do to shore up the film, it is Béart who must light the film.

The film also has an extraordinarily slow pace, probably because the story is a little puzzlingly simple. It is not clear why would Manon's mother leave her for the operas; it is also not clear that what was Manon, if she was filled with that much hate for the Soubeyrans, doing all this time? Happily singing to her herd of goats and waiting for a schoolteacher to arrive to enlighten her? There is also a serious disjunct between her father's character and hers: which of course is something that happens all the time, but the only thing is that a revenge story craves for a justice arrived at, rather than being meted out.

Ben-Hur is a great film not just because of its story of miracles and its sheer belief in humanity and life, but also because Judah's wife asks him: You've become the very thing you set out to destroy, Messala! This is the poignant crux of life: to kill the killer I need to become the killer, and then what is the point of that justice I am seeking? A mere unspent bloodthirst? At this important point, Manon des Sources fails.

Daniel Auteuil has little to do in the film, while Montand has simply the role of a tired man doomed to the results of his wickedness; his remorse, the revenge for him, is only because Jean was his own son, but he would still do the same thing tomorrow to some another man who wouldn't be his son. Is that even revenge? Béart is insipid, while the rest of the village's sudden desire to talk about an affair that happened more than a decade back is strange, as is their newfound ability to suddenly connect the drying up of water with what happened at the Romarins. However, on the whole, the two films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources are classic examples of French cinema: slow and thoughtful, lingering shots, a woman's nudity as a fact and beauty and not in the way most American films show, a simple story with not many twists, life's ironies and realities, ordinary acting and beautiful music, and an emphasis to content over style. I could watch these two films just for Dépardieu and Montand and the Verdi music that is the refrain of the film.

As an aside, I must say that have the DVD poster-makers started making posters without seeing the film and from their own imagination? The current poster higlighted on for Jean de Florette ( is not only not a scene from the film, but it couldn't have been: the sheer tragedy of the films lies in the fact that Montand drove his son to his death and ruin without even ever meeting him, his eyes, his voice.