In a rural French village an old man and his only remaining relative cast their covetous eyes on an adjoining vacant property. They need its spring water for growing their flowers, so are dismayed to hear the man who has inherited it is moving in. They block up the spring and watch as their new neighbour tries to keep his crops watered from wells far afield through the hot summer. Though they see his desperate efforts are breaking his health and his wife and daughter’s hearts they think only of getting the water.
Jean de Florette is a 1986 French period drama film directed by Claude Berri, based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol. It is followed by Manon des Sources. The film takes place in rural Provence, where two local farmers scheme to trick a newcomer out of his newly inherited property. The film starred three of France’s most prominent actors – Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, who won a BAFTA award for his performance, and Yves Montand in one of the last roles before his death.
The film was shot, together with Manon des Sources, over a period of seven months. At the time the most expensive French film ever made, it was a great commercial and critical success, both domestically and internationally, and was nominated for eight César awards, and ten BAFTAs. The two films helped promote Provence as a tourist destination.
About the Story
The story takes place in a small village in Provence, France, shortly after the First World War. Ugolin Soubeyran (Auteuil) returns early in the morning from his military service, and wakes up his uncle César—known as ‘Le Papet’ (Montand). Ugolin stays only briefly to talk, as he is eager to get to his own place farther up in the mountains.
Here he throws himself into a project that—at first—he keeps secret from Papet. He eventually reveals that the project consists of growing carnations. Papet is at first skeptical, but he is convinced when the flowers get a high price at the local market. They decide the project is worthy of expansion, and together they go to see the local farmer Pique-Bouffigue, to buy his land.
The land in question is apparently “dry”, but Papet knows of a source of water, a spring, that can solve that problem. The neighbour does not want to sell, and an altercation breaks out when he insults the Soubeyran family. In the fight Pique-Bouffigue is killed, but rather than feeling remorse, Papet sees this as an opportunity. After the funeral, they dig out the rubble that is blocking the spring, plug the hole, and cover it with cement and then earth. Unknown to them, they are seen blocking the spring by a poacher inside the house.
The property descends to the dead man’s sister, Florette de Bérengère, a childhood friend of Papet; who married the blacksmith in another village, Crespin, whilst Papet was recovering in a military Hospital in Africa. He writes to Grafignette—a common friend—for news on Florette, and finds that she died the same day his letter arrived. The property thereby descends to her son Jean, who is a tax collector and “unfortunately, by God’s will…he’s a hunchback”. To discourage the new owner from taking up residence, Ugolin breaks many tiles on the roof of the residence.
Jean de Florette (1986)
Directed by: Claude Berri
Starring: Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Elisabeth Depardieu, Margarita Lozano, Ernestine Mazurowna, Armand Meffre
Screenplay by: Claude Berri, Gérard Brach
Production Design by: Bernard Vézat
Cinematography by: Bruno Nuytten
Film Editing by: Noëlle Boisson, Sophie Coussein
Costume Design by: Sylvie Gautrelet
Set Decoration by: Olivier Coutagne, François Dariani, Françoise Doré
Music by: Jean-Claude Petit
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Release Date: August 27, 1986 (France)