Note: This film guide is part of a collection of film guides on history, politics, and war.
The villager Belloiseau's accusation against Papet: "... that you knowingly depreciated the property, that you forced the owner into efforts that exhausted him, that he died of it, that you then bought the property at a low price despite the existence of a minor who could claim restitution, not to say a big indemnity" (p. 376)
Based upon Marcel Pagnol's 1962 novels The Water of the Hills: Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs, trans. W.E. van Heyningen (London: Pan, 1988). Pagnol was born in town of Aubagne and spent his childhood vacations in La Treille (Les Bastides in the films). Pagnol's memoirs of his childhood have also been turned into films: "My Father's Glory" (1991) and "My Mother's Castle" (1991).
Set in Provence ("Zola's paradise") in the hinterland behind Marseille in the interwar period. Jean Cadoret (Gerard Depardieu) is an ex-tax collector who has inherited his mother's farm and has decided to retire to the country. Because Jean does not use his mother's name, Florette, the villagers do not realise he is kin or "one of them." In the dry hills around Provence, water is the most precious commodity a farmer can have. A local landowner and village patriarch César Soubeyran (Yves Montand) and his nephew Ugolin, recently returned from war service, have designs on Marius's land which has its own spring and which they intend to use to expand their fruit orchards and to develop commercial flower growing. When they investigate the source of the spring César gets into an argument with Marius and kills him (manslaughter or murder?). They then block up the spring hoping to force the new owner Jean to sell as the drought worsens. Ugolin and Jean are both innovative farmers, both entrepreneurs with competing visions of new methods of farming, carried away by their own vision.
The theme music is from Verdi's opera "The Force of Destiny." In the sequel just revenge is taken by Jean's daughter Manon. The films have been very popular in France (JdeF was seen by over 6 million people in 15 weeks, MdesS by more than 1 million in 3 weeks), Australia and USA.
1. The hostility towards tax-collectors. César says "it is easier to get money out of my pocket than out of the ground" (p. 59).
2. The intense rivalry and hostility between neighbouring villages (Crespin and Les Bastides). What was the origin of this conflict?
3. Poaching: privatising public land by traditional use (de facto property rights), those who rob another person's traps are punished by violence and death, state turns poachers into outlaws or criminals.
4. How would you categorise the action (or inaction) of the townspeople in not telling Jean about the spring on his land? E.G. Is it criminal or "merely" unneighbourly, or lack of courage in standing up to powerful Soubeyran family? The obligation not to do harm to others vs the virtue of doing good to others. How can people become more neighbourly? Manon's thoughts on the villagers laughing at her father: "It was not the blind forces of nature, or the cruelty of fate that he had fought for such a long time, but the tricks and hypocrisy of stupid peasants, sustained by the silence of a coalition of miserable wretches, whose spirit was as low as their feet. He was no longer a vanquished hero, but the pitiable victim of a monstrous farce, a weakling who had employed all his efforts for the amusement of an entire village..." (p. 314).
5. The idea of minding one's own business: Ugolin says "other people's business doesn't concern me" (p. 256). Only one member of the village tried to inform Jean of the existence of the spring on his land by painting rocks with black arrows. (p. 380). Pamphile the carpenter says about the villagers "We're all criminals" (p. 313). The townspeople of Les Batides had on a previous occasion played a trick on a pensioner (not liked partly because he received a state pension) who died as a result of shoddy repairs to his house. The priest condemned them in a sermon: "But all those who KNEW and did not warn that man are perhpas more guilty than they (the builders)" (p. 362). MYOB vs Christian charity (neighbourliness, generosity, fraternity. The curé's sermon on MYOB: "Well, don't deceive yourselves! You have to be concerned with other people's business in order to help them, and that's called Christian charity. Because, you see, to be loved by God it is not enough not to do harm; virtue is not keeping quiet and closing your eyes and not moving. Virtue is acting, it is doing good" (pp. 362-3).
6. The morality of César and Ugolin's actions. U claims that plugging the spring was not wrong because it was for the carnations, it was another thing if people died as a result. U decides not to ask J to cooperate in growing carnations because he thought J would refuse because of his fascination with books and statistics (p. 271). Belloiseau's quote above.
7. The love of the land by the peasants: Marius' refusal to sell to C; U's burning desire (almost sexual) to acquire Les Romarins for his carnations "He burned with desire to appraise this land, to measure the depth of it, to know its suppleness, to smell its odor" (p. 107); the importance of inheritance to the Soubeyran family; the priest's second sermon on the peasants' deep attachment to their village
8. The theme of fate: The theme music is from Verdi's opera "The Force of Destiny"; J's comment about the sirocco (hot wind from Africa) "That's the final betrayal, the donkey's kick of fate" (p. 168); desert versus fate - C says "Fate doesn't exist. It's the good-for-nothings who talk about fate! You always get what you deserve..." (p. 265)
9. The theme of money: the conniving peasant who hoards money; C and U counting their money; C says "I'm deep because I've got the money"; J has hope so long as he has part of his inheritance left.
10. The themes of justice/injustice and revenge/restitution: Manon about U - "It was the height of injustice that this imbecile, skaken by tics, had obtained from Providence the gushing water so cruelly denied to the better man... (p. 274); Manon on U's death and her inheritance: "the delayed restitution of a theft" (p. 395). Bernard to Manon on a reference in the Bible to the idea that "If there is a single just man left in this town, it will not be destroyed" (p. 398).
11. The images of Christ: the miracle of water, Manon like Christ - the victim to pray for her hangman (p. 380); J's denunciation of God for making life so hard for a hunchback; Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the donkey.
12. The final realisation by C of whom he has killed (pp. 431-2ff): told by blind "Old Delphine" who returns to Les Bastides after death of her husband; F fell pregnant to C; C went to war in Africa; F realises she is pregant and writes to C to tell him news; letter is never delivered by army; F tries to terminate pregnancy by drugs and then by jumping off rocks; unborn baby is injured resulting in J being hunchback; F marries blacksmith from Crespin and moves away from Les Bastides.
13. Bernard asks Manon why J didn't introduce himself to mayor when he arrived and thus reveal his tie to Florette and the village?
14. Property Rights - pride of ownership, revenge and/or restitution for vilolation of property rights (trespass, destruction of property, fraud, manslaughter)
1. How are property rights violated in "Jean de Florette"? Is property a source of conflict between people or a means of fulfilling competing (or contending) dreams? Is it OK to steal from the state (poaching on state owned property?)
2. How does property contribute to the happiness of individuals, families, and communities?
3. What alternatives are there for solving disputes over property rights?
4. Do the members of the village have any obligation to intervene when somebody's (i.e. Jean's) personal or property rights are being violated and if so, what steps should they take?
5. Why have these films been so popular with audiences on 3 continents?
6. What is "one's own business" and what is "other people's business"?
7. How should one seek justice or revenge against an injustice?
1. Is there an irreconcilable conflict between property rights and human rights? It is common in films and literature to treat property rights as less important than personal or political rights. In this film we have considerable feeling for Jean (Gerard Depardieu) and his justly acquired property rights. We see the great importance his property rights have for the happiness and welfare of Jean and his family.
2. What alternatives are there for solving disputes over property rights? There are two ways in which the problems of Ugolin the flower grower could be solved: by means of the free market or by force. Ugolin could have offered Jean money or a share in the future profits of his flower growing business in exchange for Jean's water rights. There is a pressing need for ownership of and trading in natural resources like water, streams, and springs wherever they are in short supply. The problem of competing uses for land (carnation growing vs farming) could be settled by bidding for scarce resources. The most efficient and most profitable farmers would bid resources away from the less efficient, less profitable ones. The argument that because one has a "better" use of the land somehow justifies the dispossession of the original owners leads to imperialism/colonialism.
3. Christ images - wine/water, absolution of sin, baptism of U and P, JdF "why have you foresaken me".