Monday, August 11, 2014

Back to Provence and Pagnol

Many, many years ago my husband and I watched Jean de Florettte and Manon of the Springs, two wonderful movies based on Maurice Pagnol's novels. We also saw My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle--I know that we watched them in a great movie house in Augusta, Kansas, which was festooned with neon. Last month, we watched The Well-Digger's Daughter, a remake of a Pagnol movie, produced, directed, and starring Daniel Auteuil, who played the role of Ugolin Soubeyran, the carnation grower in the Jean/Manon movies.

Set in Provence just before and during World War I, this is a story about a beautiful young girl who foolishly falls for a young man. She finds herself pregnant and abandoned (she thinks) by him, and his parents will not acknowledge their son's responsibility. Pascal Amoretti, the well digger, considers his perfect, good daughter Patricia's sin a great shame to the family--especially since Jacques Mazel's family will not accept his daughter as their son's wife--and sends her away to his sister's to carry the baby to term without anyone knowing what's happened.

When one of his neighbors and another of his daughters visits the baby and he finds out it's a boy, Pascal, who has no son, goes to his sister and brings Patricia and "Amoretti" as he calls him home. The other family also values the little boy when they hear that Jacques is missing in action and believed dead--they want to have contact with their grandson--and confess their role in Patricia's shame.

I won't go into more detail about how the family honor is restored. Pagnol's very human, almost unbaptized portrayals of Provencal life always seem to be based on ideals of family versus stranger, honor versus shame--when Pascal accuses Patricia of "sin" he is not really thinking of her fall in terms of religion: he does not tell her to go to Confession and repent of her sin. He thinks about the family's honor and the shame her pregnancy will bring upon the family. She did not sin against God; she sinned against him and his ideal of her. He sends her away with a kiss that he tells her is only for the benefit of her sisters, not out of any affection. When Jacques Mazel's father and mother reject the pregnant Patricia and add the accusations of entrapment and blackmail, they are again concerned about their own standing in the community.

The production values of the movie are beautiful--Auteuil made the movie with film, not digitally--and the score by Alexandre Desplat is evocative. These movies always inspire me to buy some good dry red wine, some crusty French bread, have some olives, and a delicious soup.

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