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Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

Manon of the Spring Review


Excellent
In the sequel to Jean de Florette, we find the tables turned on Ugolin and Papet as young Manon (now played by the lovely Emmanuelle Béart) has grown up, though she's slightly deranged and lives in the hills as a vagabond shepherdess. (Of course, she's a vagabond shepherdess that is very attentive to shaving her body hair and studiously applying makeup.)

Manon carries with her the knowledge that Ugolin and Papet indirectly killed her father by sealing off his spring, so when she discovers the mountainous source of the spring -- and the water for the nearby town -- she returns the favor in kind. Alas, poor Ugolin finds himself falling in love with the wispy wanderer, leaving him dying both from thirst and a broken heart.

Continue reading: Manon of the Spring Review

Viridiana Review


Extraordinary
"I don't have ideas," Luis Buñuel once stated in an interview for the French television show, Cinéastes de Notre Temps. "It's all instinct." That 1964 interview is included among the supplements in Criterion's just-released DVD of Viridiana, Buñuel's 1961 morality tale turned inside-out. Indeed, interpreting Buñuel's stories as a system of "ideas," as intellectually articulated attacks against church, class, and state, seems off the mark. Buñuel's movies are not manifestos; they don't function on an intellectual level as, say, Godard's cinema does, but at a more subliminal, and, thus, more deeply affecting one. Sure, Buñuel mistrusted social institutions, but who among us doesn't (unless you're on the board of Exxon or Halliburton)? Buñuel isn't interested in social institutions themselves, but in those human beings corralled by such institutions into large, unruly groups, and how quickly their conduct devolves into spasms of primal behavior. His movies wear the veil of social decorum, but it's not long before his characters' basest, most visceral appetites tear through and take over, along with Buñuel's comic-absurdist instincts that comprise the hallmark of his cinema.

With his steady, deadpan gaze, Buñuel follows his titular protagonist (Sylvia Pinal), a plainly beautiful nun on a visit to her lonely, estranged uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), thus beginning her descent into disillusionment. She learns not only that Don Jaime's wife died on their wedding night, but, weirdly enough, she reminds him of her. In a Buñuelian mind-trip, we watch as Don Jaime lingers privately over his long-departed's bridal gown and veil, tries on her satin slippers, and models her corset in the mirror. Is this guy kinky, or just morbidly grieving? We're not sure, even after he gets Viridiana to dress up like her, and proposes to his niece. When Viridiana, aghast, refuses, Jaime drugs her coffee and attempts to rape her before he's wracked with shame and backs away. His shame ultimately sends the lust-crazed, lovelorn Don Jaime up a tree and down a rope, but it also sends Viridiana into a tailspin of guilt. She decides to remain at the estate, to take in the village poor and tend to their comforts. Meanwhile, Don Jamie's illegitimate son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal) -- the product of the rake's one-time union with a peasant woman -- shows up, having inherited the property.

Continue reading: Viridiana Review

Viridiana Review


Extraordinary
"I don't have ideas," Luis Buñuel once stated in an interview for the French television show, Cinéastes de Notre Temps. "It's all instinct." That 1964 interview is included among the supplements in Criterion's just-released DVD of Viridiana, Buñuel's 1961 morality tale turned inside-out. Indeed, interpreting Buñuel's stories as a system of "ideas," as intellectually articulated attacks against church, class, and state, seems off the mark. Buñuel's movies are not manifestos; they don't function on an intellectual level as, say, Godard's cinema does, but at a more subliminal, and, thus, more deeply affecting one. Sure, Buñuel mistrusted social institutions, but who among us doesn't (unless you're on the board of Exxon or Halliburton)? Buñuel isn't interested in social institutions themselves, but in those human beings corralled by such institutions into large, unruly groups, and how quickly their conduct devolves into spasms of primal behavior. His movies wear the veil of social decorum, but it's not long before his characters' basest, most visceral appetites tear through and take over, along with Buñuel's comic-absurdist instincts that comprise the hallmark of his cinema.

With his steady, deadpan gaze, Buñuel follows his titular protagonist (Sylvia Pinal), a plainly beautiful nun on a visit to her lonely, estranged uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), thus beginning her descent into disillusionment. She learns not only that Don Jaime's wife died on their wedding night, but, weirdly enough, she reminds him of her. In a Buñuelian mind-trip, we watch as Don Jaime lingers privately over his long-departed's bridal gown and veil, tries on her satin slippers, and models her corset in the mirror. Is this guy kinky, or just morbidly grieving? We're not sure, even after he gets Viridiana to dress up like her, and proposes to his niece. When Viridiana, aghast, refuses, Jaime drugs her coffee and attempts to rape her before he's wracked with shame and backs away. His shame ultimately sends the lust-crazed, lovelorn Don Jaime up a tree and down a rope, but it also sends Viridiana into a tailspin of guilt. She decides to remain at the estate, to take in the village poor and tend to their comforts. Meanwhile, Don Jamie's illegitimate son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal) -- the product of the rake's one-time union with a peasant woman -- shows up, having inherited the property.

Continue reading: Viridiana Review

Manon of the Spring Review


Excellent
In the sequel to Jean de Florette, we find the tables turned on Ugolin and Papet as young Manon (now played by the lovely Emmanuelle Béart) has grown up, though she's slightly deranged and lives in the hills as a vagabond shepherdess. (Of course, she's a vagabond shepherdess that is very attentive to shaving her body hair and studiously applying makeup.)

Manon carries with her the knowledge that Ugolin and Papet indirectly killed her father by sealing off his spring, so when she discovers the mountainous source of the spring -- and the water for the nearby town -- she returns the favor in kind. Alas, poor Ugolin finds himself falling in love with the wispy wanderer, leaving him dying both from thirst and a broken heart.

Continue reading: Manon of the Spring Review

Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

Night of the Shooting Stars Review


OK
As Germany falls to the Allies after WWII, a small Italian town is threatened with destruction, so its simple residents decide to pack up and leave. What follows is a hit-and-miss piece of nostalgia, with hapless villagers hopelessly out of their element and unsure of what to do and where to go. Post-war disillusionment has been done better in other films, but Night of the Shooting Stars' quaintness (alternately described as "operatic" by fans struggling to put a somewhat more elegant face on them) speaks to many looking for a simpler look at the effects of war on the world.

Continue reading: Night of the Shooting Stars Review

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