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Jean De Florette / Manon Of The Spring
Based upon the novel written by Marcel Pagnol, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring are double-billed films which were distributed with the notation of being Part One and Part Two respectively. Adapted by Claude Berri with Gerard Brach, these films became a box-office success globally and won over the hearts of filmgoers and critics. This is a story well worth exploring for any individual with an affection for great stories and quality filmmaking. This two-part production is considered as one of the greatest achievements in the history of international cinema.
The story of Jean de Florette begins with César Soubeyran (Yves Montand) and Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil). César Soubeyran is the last patriarch of a successful family in the small community surrounding Provence, France. They live the lives of farmers and have a lot of land which is utilized for growing flowers and crops for the community. Unfortunately, the Soubeyran's storyline is not one filled with good deeds or the magnificence of a grand cinematic sunrise. Things get off to a gloomy start.
The land the Soubeyran's own has brought them wealth and success but they are not as (massively) successful as they once were. In seeking out more prosperity the Soubeyran's try to convince their neighbor (himself a gardener) to sell everything to their family. He has a daunting task ahead of him as he is having problems with his crops because of a lack of a consistent rain pattern. César Soubeyran is aware of a plentiful water source nearby which resides on their neighbor's land but that the neighbor is unaware of existing. Instead of trying to help, César Soubeyran is only interested in adding to the wealth of the Soubeyran family name. When the neighbor says no to their purchase request (which was at a low value) there is a confrontation in the fields which leads to the injury of the neighbor. Instead of making sure to save the neighbor's life he is left in the fields to die.
A new neighbor is soon to reside next to the Soubeyran family as he has inherited the estate and garden. His name is Jean de Florette (Gerard Depardieu). He is sick of the city life and wants to make a good living for himself, his wife Aimee Cadoret (Elisabeth Depardieu), and daughter Manon (Ernestine Mazurowna). The film explores Jean de Florette's attempts to grow a good garden for the family and his approach to the new country living while living unaware of the quality water-supply nearby (which César and Ugolin continue to not mention). Without the needed amount of water to help the crops grow the family is left in a dire situation which is concluded with devastating results. Young Manon discovers that there was a water supply unannounced by César and Ugolin at the end of the story.
In Manon of the Spring, an older Manon (Emmanuelle Beart) once again encounters the pair of César and Ugolin. Manon now decides to seek out her revenge for what they did to her family. Ugolin is now interested in a partnership with Manon and he seeks her hand in marriage (despite the betrayal he brought and the devastating results on their family). Will Manon accept Ugolin's marriage proposal or will there be considerably different ending for the Soubeyran's? When their town's water supply runs out the story of what happened to Jean de Florette begins to unfold to the end.
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring feature tremendous performances from the cast. Yves Montand delivered one of his last performances and it was largely regarded as amongst his best. Gerard Depardieu, equally famous for classic French film roles, gave one of his own career best and helped to form the beating heart of Jean de Florette. Daniel Auteuil, who was still a relative unknown at the time of making these, gained a significant career jump and has become one of the most renowned French actors in all of cinema. Elisabeth Depardieu does a terrific job with her performance as well and is a wonderful compliment to Jean de Florette. In Manon of the Spring, Emmanuelle Beart impresses with a well-rounded role and performance which is an impressive addition to the story and a solid match in caliber to the work done by fellow cast members.
The cinematography was by Bruno Nuytten (Barocco, Tchao Pantin) and it helps to give the experience of viewing these films a special quality that is quite rare: the feeling of walking directly into a painting and encountering the lush brushstrokes of an artist. This feeling is Magnifique when it manages to happen. Nuytten creates a lush photographic style to the proceedings. The colors are bold, vibrant, and perfectly realized. The color timing of the environmental landscapes makes this film even more poetic and graceful. Nuytten struck filmmaking gold with his accomplished contributions.
The production design was by Bernard Vezat (Camille Claudel). It is a grand effort and one which abundantly showcases that the budget of the film was well worth the cost to the film producers. At the time of the theatrical release for Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, production numbers indicated that it was the most expensive French film ever made. A lot of those costs must have gone towards the aesthetic designs of the film. The housing of both Jean de Florette and the Soubeyran's impresses with remarkable detail and the scenes taking place in the nearby towns were believably created and helped to further immerse audiences into the story.
The score music by Jean-Claude Petit (Cyrano de Bergerac) is beautiful and haunting. Indeed, it would be quite difficult to imagine experiencing these films with a different accompanying soundtrack. The music helped to set the tone and the emotion that ebbs and flows from the filmmaking. It is so much better as an experience through the enhancements brought to the table by Petit's score. This is a terrific and essential effort in film music composition.
Claude Berri (Germinal, Hunting and Gathering) arguably crafted the most important work in his career by directing both Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. Not only did he bring a tale to audiences that was filled with historical subtext and nostalgia for a specific time within French history, Berri helped orchestrate an appreciation for the French countryside. Part of the beauty of these productions is the environmentalism and the filmmaker's love of a natural order. The horror then comes from the malice and evil bestowed by the Soubeyran's on common people merely seeking to live a good life and who are hoping to survive on the fruits of their labor. Berri provides an intelligent, observational, and graceful cinematic approach. Berri's films also manage to strike a strong sentimental chord. Audiences found themselves rooting for Jean de Florette and his family and their goals. The performances Berri brought out of the cast were quite strong. As a result, the cast was then able to bring the necessary emotional gravitas to their roles.It's not often that one sees something so consistently brilliant and fully realized with the sheer level of scope and magnitude that was achieved with Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. Filmmakers often strive to achieve greatness but so often fall short of reaching success at the level of these film productions. One of the reasons these two films are renowned as genuine classics of foreign cinema is because they are consistent with telling the story: even though part one was claimed brilliant at release would it still be considered such without the closure and the grand filmmaking contained within part two? There is no disappointment to be found in the keen directorial eye of Claude Berri. Some viewers like to toss around the world 'epic' carelessly on any film they adore. It's an overused word. For Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring it can be applied perfectly as this four-hour opus represents one of those rare times where the word is a well suited descriptor: this is an epic achievement which manages to reach its ambitions.
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring arrive on Blu-ray in North America for the first time courtesy of Shout Factory. These presentations should be strikingly similar to that of the recent French Blu-ray editions. Each film has been given a 1080p High Definition presentation and is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
The colors are absolutely mesmerizing: bold and beautiful. The cinematography is naturally filmic and the detail and clarity boost from the presentation is going to impress viewers. If there is any downside to report, it's that some shots in the presentations are rather soft (a notable contrast to other scenes which are quite sharp). This is likely source related. The encoding bit-rate is generally strong. Altogether, experiencing both Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring on Blu-ray is a revelation.
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring both feature a terrific lossless audio presentation in DTS-HD Master Audio stereo. Encoded at 24 bit depth, both Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring sound as impressive on Blu-ray as can be realistically expected. Clarity is strong and dialogue is consistently easy to understand. The music score by Jean-Claude Petit is wonderfully reproduced.
Unfortunately, Shout Factory's double-feature Blu-ray release of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring contains no supplements at all.
Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring are both exquisite works of art which represent some of the greatest filmmaking to ever grace cinema (regardless of origination). Director/co-writer Claude Berri and co-writer Gerard Brach have done a terrific job adapting the material from Marcel Pagnol into a significant four hour epic. The storytelling is superb and so is the high quality craft of the production.
Shout Factory has done a commendable job porting over the recently restored presentations for release on Blu-ray in North America and this bargain-priced two-film collection is an essential purchase for lovers of foreign cinema. Here's hoping that the release of this double-bill will help inspire Criterion to one day issue some of Marcel Pagnol's films as a director (including Manon of the Spring, which inspired the source novel that led to this two-part production following the studio edits to his film -- a new and complete restoration of his four-hour work would be a must-see event).
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.