Jean de Florette

"Jean de Florette" is a rich, complex story you can really get your teeth into, but I caution you from the get-go: Have "Manon of the Spring" sitting beside your video player! Watching the first story but having to wait to see the conclusion of this saga is cruel and unnecessary.

The cast is flawless: Gerard Depardeau ("Les Comperes" and "Les Miserables"); Yves Montand ("Is Paris Burning?" and "On a Clear Day"); Daniel Auteuil ("The Closet" and "Cache"); along with an armload of other French actors and actresses playing authentically provincial characters. Both movies are shot in a single area in an interesting, rocky, semi-arid part of France, although the dialogue is sometimes in French and sometimes in Italian, so it clearly is supposed to be near the border. The story begins immediately after WWI and the second part ("Manon") takes place ten years later.

Gerard Depardeau is an ebullient hunchback, happily moving his cherished little family, a former opera-singer wife and their pre-teen daughter, Manon, into the area. He inherited the farm from a relative and is eager to leave his tax-collector job in the city and pursue an "authentic" life in the pure country air. He has many textbook-based theories on farming and animal husbandry, most of which his closest neighbors, Montand and Auteuil find amusing. Montand is a wealthy bachelor farmer from a family which has been prominent in the area for decades. Auteuil is his homely dim-witted nephew who only wants to grow carnations.

Montand's clever character very much wants to buy the adjacent land but does NOT want to pay very much for it. He sees his plots to run off the increasingly desperate little family as a kindness, "They would be so much happier in the city and a hunchback makes a better tax collector than a farmer!" He and his nephew, as a preemptive strike, had stopped up and concealed a spring that was conveniently close to the farmhouse, even before our family has a chance to move in. In addition, they create a bias against the newcomers in the nearby village. A summer drought forces the three to carry water on foot and by mule, as they know nothing of the spring, and an empty cistern threatens to derail Depardeau's optimistic plans.

Both films taken together create the complete story. Montand does most of the heavy lifting, particularly near the end of the second film...and he is WONDERFUL!...although Auteuil is convincingly daft and Depardeau shows a sunny disposition I don't think I've ever seen him display before. Both films were shot in 1986 and have been treasured for decades. There should be no reason why you can't obtain both at the same time...sorta like having your own mini-series.