Thursday, 24 February 2011

Jean De Florette

1986 by Claude Berri

Ugolin returns back to his native place, a village around the beautiful Provence region in France, and has a new idea to cultivate some flowers - carnations - in large scale, which can offer him better profits than other corps. He is like a right hand man to his uncle Soubeyran, who is an established farmer and a big land owner. He secretly cultivates the flowers and when it is ready to be harvested, he invite his uncles and reveals the secret. Soubeyran is not impressed but Ugolin takes him to the florist who offer a price, inspite of being off season, which impresses his uncle a lot. They are glad that they have a great idea but needs some new land for large scale cultivation. The problem in the region is lack of perennial water streams. There is a neighborhood farm land which will be ideal (which is known for a perennial water source), but the owner doesnt want to sell it and Soubeyran , though not intended, kills this farmer. He doesnt regret it at all. They find out that Jean, the hunchback, is the legal heir of the land. Soubeyran and Ugolin finds the origin of the water source and covers it with some cement so that nobody else can find this out. So even if the new owner wants to do some farming he will not have any options with water and will finally sell the land. To their surprise, Jean arrives with his wife and child to the village. Ugolin offers lot of help for them to settle but finds out that Jean has lot of plans with farming in the land. Ugolin tries his best to de motivate Jean, who has some solution for everything, some out of the box ideas and lot of optimism. Soubeyran asks Ugolin to be as nice as possible with the Hunchback and family so that they will have good control over him and can also make sure that he will never find the water source. Jean works hard, he has to get water from one mile away, madly in fact, and has good results from the kitchen garden and rabbit farm. However, nature which was initially kind turns very cruel to him and there is an extended summer which means he is losing on all accounts. They even pawn their farm land and home with Soubeyran to have some extra money, hoping to repay it very soon. A few days of rain can change his fortunes and Jean is very optimistic. He is alone and the whole village in fact looks down on him and the family. As a last attempt, he tries to dig a well in his plot. With the last bit of money he has, he buys some explosives and tries to break the large mass of rock. Poor man gets killed in this attempt.  Jean's wife and child has no optiion, but to give the land and home back to Soubeyran and collect a few thousand Francs as balance and leave the village. While they are getting ready to leave, Soubeyran and Ugolin cant resist going up to the water source and open it up. They are so happy and were unable to wait for a few more minutes for Jeans wife and child to leave the village. Jean's child, Manon, was following them and she is shocked to see water gushing out in their land, so close to their home. Soubeyran and Ugolin is still enjoying the moment, unaware of the fact that Manon, the little girl of Jean the hunchback, who strived hard unto death to find water, is aware about the water source.

I dont know what to say. A beautiful story (originally a novel) made into a very beautiful film. The first feeling I had after watching this movie is to go to my village and start farming. Years back, when I saw Maravathoor Kanavu, a Malayalam movie, then too I had this feeling, a little. But this time the feeling is 10000000... times more may be. Because this is simply excellent, excellent and excellent. The beauty of Aix en Provence is so well captured and so are everything about the life around a rustic Provence village. Each and everybody who appear on screen is a real person. More than anything, it looks like, till few decades back village life was same, even if it was Asia or Europe. We saw in 'Lagaan', how much the villagers craved for rain and Ashutosh Gowariker had to use a song there to capture the situation. In Jean de Florette there is the same situation, sans songs, but is simply beautiful. We feel like crying for Jean.

Life was hard and it was a constant struggle between man and nature. It is the struggle of our forefathers, their common sense, their intelligence and inventions which have lead us to our modern life. How much I wish, this movie was dubbed and released in India. For the great Indian middle class and corporate world, who seem to have lost count on the poverty in our country and the importance of Agriculture, this movie is a must watch. May be they will think for at least an hour about our farmers. At least our Hon. Minister, P Chidambaram, who dared to announce that he wish to see 70% of Indians living in cities, this movie is a must watch. I dont think any normal human being can complete watching this movie without sparing a thought for farmers who struggle with nature to feed us.

I always felt Daniel Auteuil is an excellent actor, but he can only portray simple and quite kind of characters. I was wrong. As Ugolin, I cant think about anybody else. Even the minute subtleties for such a character is taken care of, I must say. If not for him may be Ugolin would have just been an ordinary village man who is just a stupid assistant of a crooked land owner.

And Gerard Depardieux, as always, is excellent. First, I didnt understand why Jean had to be a hunch back in this movie. Even if he was a normal man, that would not have changed the story. But this is not modern France. In a rustic village, and even in French cities, hunch backs were basically looked down upon by normal population. They were not supposed to be intelligent and are stupid basically. In French literature, hunch backs lived in a world of their own and were villains. And here the hunch back is supposed to surprise the whole village.

I would always consider this as one of my best cinematic experiences. A movie which gives me this immense feeling to be a farmer, which make me think so much about the struggles of our fore fathers, which make me wonder about the influence of nature on humans, which make me admire some artists and craftsmen, who dont even speak my language, is definitely going to live with me. I will always sing its praises. This is one which can be watched and enjoyed by anybody, irrespective of whether one likes to watch movie as an art product, an intellectual piece or pure entertainment stuff.

Jean De Florette, which also has some excellent music to accompany, has a second part too. Both the parts were simultaneously shot, but released as two movies. I cant wait for the second part.


  1. Inspiring!
    I remember someone once said: "one day villages will surround and seize the cities."
    Like Masanobu Fukuoka we all carry within us the potency for a "One-Straw Revolution", isn't it? Sharing the same dream....

  2. Thanks Jijo. Curious to know who said that- about villages seizing cities. Watch this one, if you can. I hope you will like it. Hopefully, I can watch part two today (which was the one I was referred to watch actually)

  3. Dear Rajesh, I can't exactly say where it is said; if I am not mistaken it is in the book "മുറിവേറ്റിട്ടും ആത്മഹത്യ ചെയ്യാത്തവര്‍ (അതിജീനത്തിന്റെ കഥകള്‍)" / വിമല പബ്ലിക്കേഷന്‍.
    It is said by an youngster from Thrissur (I forget his name) who committed suicide in 1980s. He was a college student from a poor family, formed himself in the revolutionary thoughts of time. Previous night of his death he spoke these words in the ears fo his ignorant mother: "ഗ്രാമങ്ങള്‍ നഗരങ്ങളെ വളഞ്ഞ് കീഴടക്കും" Next day he was found dead on the railway track.

    I had already watched the movie. Your observation is true to the letter, that is why I thoguht of not adding a further comment on it. However, part 2 I haven't yet watched. I do not have it.

  4. Dear Jijo, Thanks for that. I cant help feeling for that boy from Thrissur. That is a very touching story, which can make a classic movie.
    I was hoping to watch the part 2 - Manon des sources today, but may be will have to wait for a few more days.