Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Manon Des Sources

Manon Des Sources

Picking up around a decade after the events of Jean De Florette, ‘Le Papet’ (Yves Montand) and Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) have prospered as a result of their misdeeds in the first instalment. Their flower-growing business is successful and they still hold power and sway in the community. However, with no heir and Ugolin without a wife, Papet’s concern has turned to the protection of their noble lineage. An ethically problematic solution presents itself with the return of Jean’s daughter, Manon (Emmanuelle Béart), now a comely young woman, with whom Ugolin has become infatuated.

It’s always a danger when the second instalment in a series adopts a darker atmosphere (particularly when the first part was amply murky) but, bearing in mind the turn of events, there really was no other direction for it to go in. The repercussions are still strongly felt by all parties. There is distinctly less attention paid to the same beautiful scenery and more on characters and their motivations. The driving narrative is missing from this chapter but it’s thematically moved up a gear, making the previous grand themes seem positively lightweight. The myriad motifs covered here include; love, lust, obsession, guilt, madness, jealousy, revenge, redemption and regret. A heady mix indeed, although this comes with a not-always-unwelcome nudge towards melodrama and a loss of certain subtleties (particularly in the case of Ugolin).

While it doesn’t quite scale the heights of the première partie and the brutal simplicity contained there, it does move the chronicle into previously unseen territory. There’s a genuine investment in all the characters, which the film satiates. Both this and Jean De Florette were filmed together and based on a two-part novel by Marcel Pagnol, so this never has the feeling of an unnecessary sequel. The two parts complement each other and carry some elements through while developing others in a different direction. Even the famous central music has been tweaked slightly, to give it an even more melancholic edge. There’s a nice irony in the reversal of the previous film’s central clandestine action which brings the two together in a satisfyingly circular fashion.

For everything that’s astounding about it, it’s not without its minor faults. The suspension of disbelief needed to fathom the characters’ preternaturally innate ability to hide or move unnoticed at close quarters verges on the absurd. More significantly, Manon doesn’t come across as feisty or driven as you would expect and the film has the tendency to show its hand unexpectedly early, when prolonging the drama would have proved more affecting. The anticipated confrontation at the heart of the film doesn’t quite sing as it should and it’s hard to recover after that, despite the film’s most resonant moment coming later. Where possibly Manon herself is a dramatic disappointment, Papet is imbued with a far more rounded whole than could have been expected. In later scenes, as his house of cards begins to tumble around him, there’s a haunting sense of inevitability and sadness to his ignoble self-pitying.

This is every bit as gripping as the first, with overtones of Greek tragedy. Papet is the architect of his own downfall and the development of his character throughout the two films is one of the best arcs committed to film that I’ve seen in some time.

(As continuation of Part 1) 5/5

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