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Jean de Florette (1986) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • 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.

  • A greedy landowner and his backward nephew conspire to block the only water source for an adjoining property in order to bankrupt the owner and force him to sell.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The film "Jean de Florette" (1986) and the one which followed it, "Manon des Sources" (1986), are the screen rendition of Marcel Pagnol's exquisite novel, "L'eau des Collines" ("The Water from the Hills," 1963). It is the story of two competing projects, one carried out by the city-dweller Jean Cadoret, and the other by the peasant Ugolin, set in the rustic and picturesque environment of Provence in the 1920s. It is a story of opposites: the city versus the country, modernity versus traditional, good versus bad, and memory versus oblivion.

    As "Jean de Florette" begins, Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil), also known as "Galinette," having fulfilled his compulsory military duty, returns to "les Bastides Blanches," his native village. His uncle is César Soubeyran (Yves Montand), "le Papet," who with Ugolin is the last of the Soubeyrans, the most powerful family in the village. "Le Papet," having never married (a bit of a misnomer, since "papet" means "grandfather" in Provençal), has no heirs to whom he can pass his fortune. He sees in Ugolin his only hope for continuing the Soubeyran lineage.

    Ugolin returned to "les Bastides" with the idea of growing carnations. He sets up a small plot of land, plants his cuttings, and waits for the results. Ugolin keeps his enterprise a secret until the first harvest, when he takes his uncle along to witness the sale of the flowers to the village florist. Impressed by Ugolin's success, César sees in it a way to secure the Soubeyran family's fortune, and he resolves to do everything possible to facilitate Ugolin's success. The enterprise needs more land, and since carnations require lot of water to grow, this land must have a reliable source of water. Nearby, at the domain known as "les Romarins," there is a spring whose existence has almost been forgotten. César and Ugolin know of its existence, and they go to speak to the owner of the land, Pique-Bouffigue, offering to buy his property. Pique-Bouffigue is antagonistic toward César (probably because César never married his sister, Florette) and insults him. A fight ensues, during which César unintentionally causes Pique-Bouffigue's death. The two Soubeyrans arrange his body at the foot of a tree to simulate an accidental fall.

    César writes to an old school chum, Grafignette, who lives in nearby Crespin, asking to whom he should now address his offer to purchase "les Romarins." Grafignette writes back that the Pique-Bouffigue's heir is named Jean Cadoret (Gerard Depardieu). Cadoret is the son of Pique-Bouffigue's sister, Florette, who had just passed away few days earlier. Realizing that "les Romarins" would be practically uncultivable without the nearly forgotten spring, César and Ugolin plug it up with cement, and then camouflage it. Furthermore, César makes sure that the rest of the village knows that Jean Cadoret comes from the hated village of Crespin, thereby guaranteeing the silence and complicity of the few villagers who could be aware of the existence of this spring.

    Jean, "le bossu" (the hunchback), his wife Aimée (Elisabeth Depardieu), and his young daughter, Manon (Ernestine Mazurowna) soon arrive at "les Romarins," planning to settle down and raise rabbits. "I'm here to cultivate the authentic!" he tells Ugolin, who interprets the word "othentic" as some sort of exotic vegetable. Jean's project is in direct competition with César 's for the precious, scarce resources of arable land and water. César is convinced that it is only matter of time until Jean, a city dweller, will fail, sell his property, and return to the city where he was employed in the tax collector's office. He advises Ugolin to befriend Jean, to help him and his family as much as possible in their venture, thus insuring that when Jean is finally desperate enough to sell out, it will be to his true friend and good neighbor, Ugolin.

    The Cadorets spend their first winter at "les Romarins" preparing their project, and the spring heralds their success: the rabbits are growing fat and multiplying, and the kitchen garden gives produce which are the envy of the Soubeyrans. Summer is another story: no rain. Jean's well is now dry, and he, together with Aimee and Manon, must fetch the life-giving water from a spring located more than one mile away, still on the Cadorets' property, at "le Plantier." They endlessly shuttle between their garden and the spring as many as five or six times per day. Despite his efforts, Jean cannot keep up with his garden's thirst, and he collapses exhausted: all the rabbits die, and the garden is burned by the implacable Provence sun.

    Once restored to health, Jean is not ready to give up, and mortgages his property to César. Jean reads in one of his books about the dowsing technique and proceeds to use it to look for a spring on his land. Thinking he has discovered one, Jean digs until he reaches bedrock, and then dynamites the rock. He is injured in the explosion, and dies on his kitchen table. Aimée sells the property to César and prepares to depart. César and Ugolin, not even waiting until Aimée and Manon have left, rush to the hidden spring and unplug it. Manon, who had followed them, is crushed by the spectacle of the gushing water: her beloved father died just as a spring was "discovered" on the property.

    César cups some water from the spring and pouring it over Ugolin's head declares him the "King of Carnations."

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