4 of Claude Berri's very best films. My thoughts;
Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring --
Two part film, that was 1st released as two separate features. Terrific telling of a complex story of intertwined farming families in rural France in the early part of the 20th century.
The acting is mostly of the highest order. Yves Montand, one of the most suave men in history is completely believable as a rough hewn, self-centered farmer, Gerard Depardieu, also cast against type, as a gentle, educated city born man trying to make it as a farmer also is astounding. Almost as good is Daniel Auteuil as Montand's not-very-bright son.
Only Emmanuelle Beart, gorgeous though she may be, doesn't quite convince me as the wild woman of the fields. Some of it is performance, some of it is how perfect she looks.
The story is wonderful in a Dickensian sort of way, with clues and character elements showing up early, only to pay off three hours later. I love the first part even more, somehow it feels more truly tragic and dense, the 2nd part just a bit too neat by the end. But still a grand, intelligent, great looking entertainment.
Lucie Aubrac --
While not on a par with Berri's remarkable 2 film epic "Jean de Florette" and Manon of the Spring", this is a fairly engrossing, romantic, if somewhat romanticized true story of a married pair of resistance fighters in WWII France. Both Daniel Auteil and Carole Bouquet are solid as the couple, especially in their scenes together, which nicely capture the erotic tension of a married couple deeply in love, whose passion is not just physical, but fed by the fact they admire each other as human beings as well. It's also nice to see a war film where the woman pulls off the heroics to try and save her man, rather than the other way around.
But the darkness of occupied France seems a but sanitized here, the awful price paid by those fighting back and their innocent families is alluded too but never fully dealt with, and there is something a bit light weight about it in the end. Bouquet keeps everything so hidden when not around Autiel that she becomes somewhat opaque.
It's always interesting, but a bit stolid. Rarely truly tense, frightening or emotional. Still it's a good, decent, involving film, if not a great one.
The Pathe release of this disc is not anamorphic, and the image is only fair, which is too bad for a beautifully shot film. (And odd considering the other films ARE anamorphic...)
Berri once again turns a book into a near masterpiece, as he did with "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring". This adaptation of Emile Zola's dark polemic novel about the hard lives of French miners in 19th century France is both political and epic, with neither element drowning out the other.
Very strong performances abound. Miou-Miou is heartbreaking and, at times, frightening in her rage, as a mother and wife trying to help her family survive on the slave
like wages paid buy the mine -- her anger growing ever harder to control as the mine literally consumers her family. Gerard Depardieu is also excellent as her husband,
a big, likable fellow who is finally pushed too far by the bosses and working conditions. He joins with a more educated newcomer to the area, played by the also excellent
Renaud, to help start a strike against their bosses, who plead poverty (indeed they want to cut wages), but who live in "Let them eat cake" splendor.
While the film may be heavy handed at times in its cross cutting between the lives of rich and the poor, it escapes the trap of making "the poor" just a lovable, or pitiable mob. These are well drawn individuals, with light and dark sides, (some with more of one than the other) and the violence of the mob is shown as ugly and brutal, if also
understandable. Berri is not above acknowledging that it sometimes takes violence to force change, but even if that change may be for the good on the large scale, the violence also always leads to tragedy in the realm of individual human beings.
The film is beautifully shot and art directed, the grim hard life in the mines brought to startlingly real life, full of details and specifics that help, once again, the film transcend generalizations about being poor. These men and women take pride in their difficult, dirty and dangerous work, even as they have reached the end of their tether with their poverty.