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aka Manon of the Spring

D: Claude Berri / 113m

Cast: Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart, Hippolyte Girardot, Margarita Lozano, Yvonne Gamy, Ticky Holgado

Now a young woman, Manon (Béart), the daughter of Jean Cadoret aka Jean de Florette, lives with a couple of elderly squatters, and tends to a herd of goats. Ugolin Soubeyran (Auteuil) has a successful business growing carnations on a nearby farm. Along with his uncle, César (Montand), Ugolin has purchased the land Manon’s father owned, and they have restored the spring they blocked so long ago, and which contributed to his death. Ugolin becomes attracted to Manon, but she rebuffs him; however, his attraction becomes an obsession. At the same time, she becomes interested in Bernard (Girardot), a schoolteacher who has recently arrived in the village. When Manon overhears two of the villagers talking about the spring, she realises that everyone knew and no one did anything to stop the Soubeyrans. When providence reveals to her the source of the village’s water supply, she blocks it up in the same way that her father’s spring was stopped. Soon the villagers are panicked and ready to listen when Manon publicly accuses the Soubeyrans of their crimes, but this leads to greater and still greater tragedy…

Shot back-to-back with its predecessor Jean de Florette (1986), Manon des Sources both extends and completes that movie’s narrative arc while telling its own story at the same time. It retains many of the first movie’s attributes and stylistic flourishes – Provence still looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to Bruno Nuytten’s exquisite cinematography – and co-writer (along with Gérard Brach) and director Claude Berri continues to ensure that the characters and not the plot remain the central focus of the movie. Manon is something of a wild child, able to live off the land and not entirely comfortable around others. She says very little throughout the movie, but when she does, her words count for something and are layered with meaning. She’s fiercely independent, and beautiful too – it’s no wonder Ugolin becomes infatuated with her. Urged by his uncle to marry (and thereby keep the family name alive), Ugolin’s feelings for Manon take the story to a very dark place indeed, but it’s a measure of Auteuil’s haunting and finely detailed performance that it’s easy to feel sympathy for Ugolin, even though he’s jointly responsible for the death of Manon’s father. As he sinks further and further into despair at being rejected, Auteuil shows Ugolin’s feelings of grief and sadness and above all, loneliness, as they overwhelm him, and prove too much to bear.

Our feelings about Ugolin also extend to César, as Pagnol’s tale widens in scope to include a revelation that puts everything into cold, heart-rending perspective. César’s pride and arrogance and greed do indeed go before a fall, but it’s one that is so spectacular that, as with Ugolin, the impact of his villainous behaviour is erased by the enormity of the retribution that engulfs him. Watching Montand as he shows César slowly coming to terms with the full import of what he’s done, and where his machinations have got him, is a masterclass in screen acting. Over both movies, César has almost been a secondary character, pulling strings and sitting back while his plans come to fruition, but here Berri reveals him to be the driving force of the narrative across all four hours, a man whose pathological need to maintain his family’s influence has ensured his downfall. The irony can’t be missed, but Montand handles it with subtlety and aplomb, just as Berri has handled the material throughout. By remaining faithful to Marcel Pagnol’s two-volume novel The Water of the Hills, Berri and his cast have ensured every nuance and moment of significance has been replicated with care and sincerity. The result is a movie that is every bit as good as its predecessor, but which does so on its own terms – and rightly so.

Rating: 9/10 – a fitting conclusion to the story begun in Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources takes its villains and makes them tragic figures doomed by the short-sightedness of their egos, while also introducing a heroine whose resourcefulness mirrors their own machinations (and there’s irony there too); as the second part of a duology, there’s a lot of pressure on it to succeed, but Berri et al have done a tremendous job in making this just as impressive (if not more so) than its precursor, and one of the finest examples of French heritage cinema that’s ever been made.

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