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MGM Studios DVD presents
Jean de Florette (1986)

Ungolin: "He'll plant "othentics" everywhere! What's an "othentic"?"
César: "Probably a plant that grows in books."

- Daniel Auteuil, Yves Montand

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: April 18, 2001

Stars: Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil
Other Stars: Elisabeth Depardieu, Margarita Lozano, Ernestine Mazurowna, Armand Meffre, André Dupon, Pierre Nougaro, Jean Maurel, Roger Souza, Didier Pain, Pierre-Jean Rippert, Marc Betton, Clément Cal, Benedetto Bertino, Marcel Champel, Chantal Liennel
Director: Claude Berri

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 02h:01m:08s
Release Date: January 23, 2001
UPC: 027616857989
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+D+A- D-

DVD Review

The release of Jean de Florette on DVD comes as a bittersweet event. I first discovered this film and its companion, Manon des Sources (Manon Of The Spring), when I bought the pair as a box set on laserdisc. Based on the novels by Marcel Pagnol, the two must be viewed in sequence in order for the true impact of their story to manifest itself, and going into Jean blindly I found what would become possibly my favorite foreign films of all time. With a region 2 release sporting a new anamorphic transfer described as "stunning", hopes were high for MGM's region 1 version. These hopes were dashed with the announcement that the title would not be anamorphic after all, though what this actually meant was not fully realized until I sat down to view what they had done to this remarkable film. (More on this below in the image review.)

Yves Montand stars as César Soubeyran, a proud yet greedy farmer living in the hilly terrain of Provence, France. As the last of his line, he looks forward to passing on his estate to his nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil), who has newly arrived to live with him. Rather than planting traditional crops, Ugolin impresses his uncle with a crop of carnations, which would fetch a hefty price at market; but the soil conditions on the Soubeyran farm are too dry to undertake an extensive planting. Soubeyran's neighbor, however, has a spring on his property which would provide ample water for growing the flowers, and the two men hatch a plan to try to buy the orchard with the spring, but are met with hostile rejection from the neighbor, as the Soubeyrans are disliked by many. An altercation leaves the neighbor dead, which is when the deviousness of the Soubeyrans goes into full swing.

When word reaches the Soubeyrans that Florette, the neighbor's daughter and heir, has also died recently, they learn that her son, a city boy, is on his way to claim the estate. César and Ungolin begin to plot how they will wrest the land they desire from this young and naïve man, who they assume will sell the property upon his arrival. To encourage this, Ungolin takes to smashing up the tile roof on the farm, and the pair seal up the spring with cement, since a farm with no water is useless. When Jean Cadoret (Gérard Depardieu) finally arrives with family in tow, the Soubeyrans are even more delighted to learn that he is a hunchback, and certainly no candidate for farming. As part of their plan, Ungolin befriends Jean, in order to deceive him about the area's inhabitants, and in an effort to keep information about the spring concealed, and César simultaneously lies to the townspeople in order to limit communication with the newcomer. Much to their chagrin, Jean has high aspirations for his new property, coupled with book-learned techniques for making the farm viable . His determination is matched only by the Soubeyran's vicious attempts to undermine his plan, and as the summer drought makes life harder and harder for the young farmer, the plot to steal his property grows ever more desperate.

As I mentioned, the full impact of this incredible story is not fully realized until the sequel Manon des Sources has also been viewed. As a pair, they make up a brilliant and epic tale, with extremely rewarding character development throughout. The casting is perfect, and each performer exploits their part to the fullest—the audience has no choice but to feel the increasing pain inflicted on this gentle farmer as the evil neighbors plot to control his land. The story is tragic, but is beautifully told by director Claude Berri and Bruno Nuytten's exquisite cinematography. The French countryside is expressed in marvelous vistas, and the toil and tragedy of Depardieu's character is rendered with delicate humor and subtle detail. On its own, Jean de Florette is a brilliant character study and, with the sequel, becomes a masterpiece. This is extremely powerful filmmaking that deserves to be seen by all, and one that deserved far better treatment than it received on this DVD release.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Here is where I have to express the extreme heartbreak experienced when viewing this film. While MGM has been able to deliver some reasonable nonanamorphic transfers from its catalogue, Jean de Florette has been done a criminal disservice with this release. The fine cinematography is ruined by a less than stellar transfer, no doubt a rehash of the previous laserdisc master, but now with the added side effect of near constant compression artifacts. The result is backgrounds that squirm about and shimmer almost continually, rather than the lush countryside that should have been presented. While colors are reasonably well-delivered, to add insult to injury MGM decided not to use dual layers, which means increased compression for an already subpar transfer that makes the significant grain structure even more evident. Their defense of this horrid transfer is that this was the best possible, which comes as a major surprise given the praise the region 2 Pathe release has garnered. Thinking about what they have done to this wonderful film makes me as nauseous as watching it does. There ought to be laws against doing this to a work of art such as this.

Furthermore, to make matters worse, MGM has also decided to encode the English subtitles in such a way that widescreen owners may end up having them chopped off the screen if they choose to view this film in the normal zoomed mode used for watching nonanamorphic widescreen films. Those without the ability to scroll their picture are simply out of luck.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The French surround track is well presented, with no major faults evident. Dialogue is clear, and Jean-Claude Petit's score is translated well. While the picture is extremely lacking, the wonderful soundtrack recieves much better treatment.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The lone supplement included is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in fullframe.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

While my recommendation for the film and its sequel could not be higher, my disappointment with the presentation here could not be much worse. MGM has commited a travesty with this appalling treatment of an exquisite film. Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon des Sources, are essential foreign films; but the utter disregard they have received at MGM's hands is unforgiveable. There is no way I can support this kind of treatment for films as treasured as this. I am bitter with discontent.


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