"Jean de Florette," (1986), a French drama, is a mouth-watering, award-winning color film, set apparently, in the early 20th century, in Provence, in the gorgeous, fertile south of France. With its sequel,Manon of the Spring (Manon Des Sources) [DVD], it tells a bittersweet tale of life among the peasantry of the time. It is based on a novel, with which I am not familiar, by Marcel Pagnol, with whose work, I regret, I am also not familiar, tho I believe he was a screenwriter of note. It was adapted for the screen and directed by Claude Berri. The original score was written, and performed by Jean-Claude Petit and his orchestra; there are musical snatches throughout of the opera Verdi: La forza del destino by Guiseppi Verdi.
Central to the tale are the schemings of Cesar Soubeyran, known as "Le Papet" locally, wealthy, almost last survivor of a dynasty of hard-working, successful peasants, and treated with great respect in the village. As played by the magnetic, older Yves Montand, (Wages Of Fear [DVD] ;Les Diaboliques  [DVD]), he is as hard a man as his long life has made him. Then, his possibly not all there nephew Ugolin, played by Daniel Auteil, always so successful at playing not particularly bright characters (The Closet [DVD] ) comes home from his stint in the army. The older man is anxious to see his nephew married, with children, settled locally, and making a living before his illnesses end his life. Accordingly, Cesar has his eye on a plot of land that adjoins his holdings, and several healthy looking girls in the village.
But the land the Soubeyran family covets is sold to an outsider, a tax collector civil servant, a luckless hunchback played by the magnificent Gerard Depardieu, (Green Card [DVD] ).who comes bearing some regulation outsiders' French name, and a family to support. However, if Jean had been called by the name he should have been in the village, had they known who he really was, he would have been known locally as Jean de Florette, the title character. At any rate, the Soubeyrons, Cesar and Ugolin, pretend to befriend and help the naive and generous hunchback, who is inexperienced in farming, but has many ambitious plans, some of which are entirely unsuited for the location. Nevertheless,the Soubeyrons secretly work against the would-be farmer, most importantly by depriving him of water.
Greedy, cruel behavior to be sure, with tragic consequences. The film may be thought to have dated a bit, to be a bit too reliant on coincidence. Still, it seems to me grounded in reality. We watch the first telephones and automobiles creep into town, the appearance of new styles of dress. And I believe that French peasants, any peasants really, have historically wanted only certain things: land, with water on it; real gold, not paper scrip, and the success and survival of their families. The film, which was nominated for a Golden Globe, and won several other awards, is moving, its visual leitmotif, of red carnations, will stick in the mind; and it gains immeasurable power from the outstanding performances of its three stars.