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Jean de Florette

review by Anthony D.

Rated PG-13

Running Time: 122 minutes

Starring Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Elizabeth Depardieu and Ernestine Mazurowna

Screenplay by Claude Berri and Gerard Brach

Directed by Claude Berri

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search

"Jean de Florette," a 1986 foreign language film, from French director Claude Berri, weaves a spell of evil in the guise of a provincial village. The farming community, under the leadership of the wealthiest man and his nephew (Yves Montand as Le Papet, Daniel Auteuil as Ugolin), do their utmost to see that a newcomer (Gerard Depardieu) and his family fail at every turn in their attempt to return to nature. On the rich soil of this "Jean de Florette," (literally John the son of Florette) is the region's best water supply: a fresh water spring which had been known to flow many, many years ago. Le Papet and Ugolin will even resort to murder to acquire this plot of land. Ugolin has learned to cultivate carnations, and when Le Papet sees how much money can be made from the growth of carnations, Le Papet finds the ancient spring and blocks it with cement; thus insuring that nothing Jean attempts to grow will ever succeed. The village silent stands by as Jean faces one failure falling upon the next, but each successive failure only makes Jean more determined to succeed, whatever the cost, as his wife and his daughter, Manon, look on helplessly.

Based on a literary classic by Marcel Pagnol ("The Fanny Triology"), "Jean de Florette" is a surprisingly entertaining film, with standout performances from the three leading actors. The film feels like a novel unwinding before one's eyes, and paced as on turning the page a new and exciting fate will take hold of the characters. The Technovision camera lovingly moves across the landscape of this mountainous region where rain barely falls, lending an authentic air to a fable handed down from one generation to another. That "Jean de Florette" is based on a true tale makes its denouement all the more heartbreaking. BUT, "Jean de Florette" is only one-half of the tale, the story continues ten years later in "Manon of the Spring." In spite of this, "Jean de Florette" is a fine stand-alone film.

As part of MGM's exciting new WORLD FILMS series, "Jean de Florette" has been issued in a glowing, though non-anamorphic, widescreen transfer with an aspect ration of approximately 2.35:1. With many scenes filmed with natural lighting - - a very popular practice in the 1980's, I was pleased to find a relatively low percentage of film grain. Colors appear to be as true as possible for a film from this period, with the reds never bleeding, and fleshtones wavering only slightly to the orange side. Fabric textures reach out and are highly defined. There are a few minor instances of moiring, in a couple of outdoor scenes, when the tiled rooftops are shown.

No new Dolby 5.1 track here; MGM has elected to retain the film's original Dolby Surround (2.0) French language track, and though dated, is not an unpleasant experience. The rear channels mostly bring the excellent score by Jean-Claud Petit into play. The score itself is a personal favorite of mine, and it is very well presented through this track. I could have hoped for an English Language track, but after having seen both films in a theater and having viewed the dvd, I realized that the French language is the only way to present this film. It seems that there are several French dialects at work here - - think of Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady" attempting to locate a person's home within three city blocks just by the way he speaks - - the prim & proper dialect used by the city-dweller Jean and his family, and the regional sound of Le Papet, Ugolin and the villagers. Anyone who has had several years studying the French language will hear these distinctions instantly; but whether they would work with English dubbing remains to be seen.

As for the extras, MGM has given us one single release Trailer which makes excellent use of Petit's score, and fortunately gives away none of the secrets of the film. Compared to the film itself, the trailer is grainy and harshly lit - - watching it before the film made me fearful of the quality of the film's transfer.

"Jean de Florette" contains what is probably Gerard Depardieu's finest performance, and he is ably abetted by the late, great Yves Montand. These two powerhouses, though they never share the screen at the same time share many of the same idiosyncrasies, which only become apparent after repeated viewings. And "Jean de Florette," with or without "Manon of the Spring" is a film crafted to be savored over and over. With MGM's wave of new low prices, this is one French meal you don't have to go over budget for.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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