A tale of tragedy; a demonstration of life’s worst and of injustice at its purest, undiluted and unrelenting – and shortly afterwards, a deeply satisfying revenge. There is no other way to watch Jean de Florette and Manon de Sources than back to back, immediately without pause. If you allow yourself any other way, you’ll be left ruined. The story of a hunchback who works himself to death is horrifying and beautiful in a way that could never be replicated. There are moments that drift hauntingly towards no place in particular, and the endless tribulations of a man, and stupidities of a blind follower – lonely and deathly village sequences and the eternal near-knowledge of impending tragedy. All of this sounds too bleak to sit through, but it really isn’t.
The reason for this is partly in the artfulness, the pockets of humour and the gentle heart the guides on. In Jean de Florette, the first of the two-part series, we find ourselves exposed to both the joy of storytelling through cinema and the terror of life stripped down, where there are no moments of contemplation, or little and personal experiences that make everything worthwhile. Instead, we kill each other like animals and laugh as we rot and become forgotten. The hope comes and goes, but the director isn’t generous with it. Most often, it leaves us far too early. A desperate family, having once been healthy, happy and filled with hope, trudge desperately on to the little water in reach (barely enough for a day of watering crops) and then they are reminded that their monumental efforts are almost always in vain. Death befalls our hero and our antagonists celebrate, stupidly and selfishly and humanly.
And then, in the second part, Manon, the daughter, has grown – living peacefully alone in the woods as a shepherd-girl she learns the truth of her father and plots an ingenious revenge. As the second-part plays out, the revenge grows ever-sweeter and the daughter, who plays a minimal part in the first film, becomes our hero, guiding light and catharsis. Manon de Sources is the cure for the damage bestowed on us by Florette. The second half, developing and strengthening as the plot thickens, proves to be the stronger of the two. Amazingly, it only adds to the sheer magnificence of the first. French cinema loves to act, to stir and to shock, and this story is no exception; only it’s also done with more skill and more patience.
And can it be that this film holds one of the greatest endings in the history of film? The power it has, for the thousandth viewing, as my eyes swell up and goose-bumps possess my skin, and I contemplate all sorts of possibilities and atrocities. Truly one of the great films of the 20th century, and a pleasure to sit through every time.
Jean de Florette at IMDb
Jean de Florette at Wikipedia
Manon de Sources at IMDb
Manon de Sources at Wikipedia
Jean de Florette (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb
Manon de Sources (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb