Ugolin Souberyan(Daniel Auteuil) returns home after First World War with a intent to grow carnations in his property. Sensing the potential of Ugolin’s scheme, his uncle Cesar Souberyan(Yves Montand) encourages him to grow the flowers on a large scale. Cesar is very old and has never married. After his death, he will pass all his wealth to Ugolin. In order to fulfill Ugolin’s dream, Cesar talks to his neighbor to buy fertile land with a spring belonging to the latter. But, the conversation turns ugly and an enraged Cesar pulls his neighbor from the tree resulting in a fatal fall for the latter. A manipulative Cesar decides to buy the land from the dead man’s heir. In order to make life difficult for the heir, Cesar and Ugolin blocks the spring using cement.
The heir turns out to the dead man’s sister Florette. Unfortunately, Florette dies and the property passes on to her son Jean Cadoret(Gerard Depardieu) who is a hunchback. Ugolin befriends Jean with a view to buy the inherited property when the time is right. But Ugolin is in for a surprise. Armed with books written on agriculture and animal rearing, Jean intends to grow rabbits and all kinds of vegetation in the inherited property. Jean’s wife and daughter blindly believes him. All of them intend to spend rest of their days in the inherited property. Despite Ugolin’s warning about lack of water in the property, Jean is not discouraged. Seeing Jean’s romantic views and also optimistic determination, Ugolin loses hope. But, Cesar is ready to play the waiting game. The rest of the movie follows the hardships of Jean and his family.
Claude Berri directs this movie based on the novel by Marcel Pagnol. This forms the first part of the two movies based on this novel. The movie scores on two points – the direction and the performances. In this first part, the movie focuses on the selfishness and ruthlessness of man to achieve money. Here, you see a helpless and handicapped Jean confronting nature and unbeknownst to himself, confronting his neighbors also. Claude poignantly captures the hardship in setting up a farming venture. The movie is set in a span of almost 3 years in less than 2 hours. Yet, the director effectively portrays the passing seasons.
The performances of three main protagonists stand out. Yves Montand as Cesar displays many colors of this character. The way Cesar persuades Ugolin to dissuade Jean is a clever scene where Yves’ cunning is clearly visible in his eyes and barely noticeable on his lips. Also, when Cesar spies on a struggling Jean in the latter’s property, there are multiple emotions displayed by Yves – sympathy, revulsion and confusion. Daniel Autueil’s Ugolin is a bit slow in deducing. He is an emotional being who gets sympathetic to Jean and needs help from Cesar to walk the path. Daniel is fun to watch especially in the scenes where he gets flustered after unsuccessfully trying to dissuade Jean. Finally, Gerard Depardieu makes the audience root for Jean with his performance. It is towards the latter half of the movie, Gerard makes an impression. He is excellent in portraying the fatigued Jean while transporting water from the distant spring. He also makes a emotional impact when he cries out his plea at the clouds raining far away and also at the gods.
This is a must watch for a serious cinema lover.
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