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In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

Southern France in the movies

September 15, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

French filmmaker Marcel Pagnol graced world screens with his genius since the '30s, but his 1981 masterpiece, "Jean de Florette," remains as a paean to his beloved Provence region in Southern France.

Pagnol spent his childhood summers in the Provencal countryside, not far from Marseille. Later, he shot many of his films at the foot of his favored Mount Garlaban, including an earlier version of "Jean de Florette." He returned years later to remake the film, to retell the story in the delicate colors of the area while at the same time retaining the sense of period and regional aura found in the film, and to take you on a new emotional roller coaster ride.

Few films have developed characters as deeply multi-dimensional as those represented in this movie. Rather than relying on stereotypes, director Claude Berri (who won Best Director for the film in 1981) chose to develop fully each character, from the leads to the most minor members of the cast. They dress, act and even speak comfortably to suit the times and rural region.

We are introduced to the main people around whom the film revolves: Cesar (Yves Montand, who along with Daniel Auteuil, won an award for his role) is a wealthy landowner who lives with his only living relative, his nephew Ugolin (Auteuil). Ugly and slow on the uptake as Ugolin is, he is also the last of his bloodline. So Cesar plans to bring importance to the nephew, to find a wife for him and bear many children, and be set up financially and become as vital to the community as was he. But Cesar's plan is thwarted by the introduction of Jean (Gerard Depardieu), the nave and innocent son of Parisian-born Florette, who has died and willed to her son a choice piece of property in the hills of the area - a piece Cesar wants for his nephew.

Jean, new to the country ways, tries to live off the land, to make a place for himself, his wife and his little daughter, by raising rabbits. But Cesar, together with Ugolin and other local inhabitants, concoct a cruel scheme to eliminate the intruder - and thereby hangs a tale that is at once humorous, touching and as sympathetically dramatic as the haunting Verdi music which forms the tonal envelope for the movie.

From a topical point of view, the treatment given outsider Jean by the locals is curiously symbolic of the present growing popularity of the anti-immigration movement.

The film immediately became a great success in France, then around the world - eventually included in the prestigious Best Ever 1,000 Films list. Words like "a definitive French masterwork" and "unbearably beautiful" marked the raves following its release.

Winner of a total of eight Oscar nominations, the movie ran away with winnings for Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay and more.

Technically, the film couldn't be better. Visually, it is perfect, with France's gifted cinematographer Bruno Nuytten capturing both the beauty of the countryside and the raw features of the various characters. Jean-Claude Petit's score, borrowing liberally from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," enhances in such a way that the film's emotional impact becomes overwhelmingly important rather than simply existing as a pleasant background distraction.

As the Calumet Theatre's follow-up to this final weekend's live production of "The King and I," Club Indigo's "Jean de Florette" arrives next weekend, Friday the 23rd, to be shown at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by an appropriate buffet of unique French cuisine from the chefs at Lake Linden's De La Terre restaurant. Cost is $18 for food and film; film alone, $5.

A call to the theatre at least a day in advance is necessary for the buffet: 337-2610.

The movie is sponsored by Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital in Laurium.

Note: Don't miss the annual chili cook-off in Copper Harbor this Saturday at 4 p.m. - free and open to all the public.

Rotten Tomatoes averages: "Winnie the Pooh," A-; "Contagion," B



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