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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Fool on the Hill

Jean de Florette (1986) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Ugolin “Galinette” Soubeyran (Daniel Auteuil) returns in the 1920s to les Bastides Blanches, his native village in the Provençal country­side of south­eastern France. He climbs a hill to greet his uncle César Le Papet Soubeyran (Yves Montand) (Quelle la surprise!) His bachelor uncle presses Ugolin to find him­self a village girl to marry so, “When you die, you'll have an heir.” Ugolin replies that for 15 francs a month he can go to the city for service, but old César wants heirs (“You're my only relation.”)

Ugolin initiates a secret enterprise to grow carnations (“C'est un secret”) and when he finds they're viable commercially, he tells his uncle who hatches a plan for fields of them for his heirs-to-be. It involves leasing or buying the land of his neighbor Pique-Bouffigue for the arable land and water rights to grow the Imperials en masse. Pique-Bouffigue, how­ever, is piqued toward César, likely because César never married his sister, Florette. Their squabble leads to blows and Pique-Bouffigue's “accidental” demise.

Awaiting the dead man's heirs, the two neighbors contrive another “accident” to block up a forgotten spring with­out which thirsty plants won't stand a chance. The distant heir turns out to be a hunch­back Jean de Florette (Gérard Depardieu) come from the city with high hopes of a farmer's healthy life. His conniving neighbor helps him work himself to exhaustion sans a convenient water supply, until he decides to dig a well through the bed­rock. Wine and dynamite don't mix well. The duplicitous neighbor supplies the wine. Of course, there's another accident (“C'est un disaster!”) The aloof villagers conclude it's because he had a “lack of common sense” (“sans bon sens.”)


This tragic story developed ultimately from the village's reliance on endogamy to pass on property, especially land—through family ties (as by marriage.) Pique-Bouffigue didn't work his land and had no interest in doing so. Ugolin's uncle offered him fair market value for it—or was prepared to—and would have likely made the deal had he been his brother-in-law. Similarly, they wanted to give Jean de Florette good value for the property and he could have returned with profit to his cushy job in the city. It was a chauvinistic adherence to endogamy that ultimately did them in.

For comparison with its opposite, let's look at novelist Lionel Davidson: “The society was exogamous—sexual relation­ships were prohibited between members of a clan. The taboo was incest-based and prevented an individual from sleeping with his mother or sisters” (47). Endogamy in les Bastides Blanches if it didn't result in incest, it evidently resulted in a certain amount of inbreeding. The women, according to uncle César, were fine specimens—as was his house­maid—but the men turned out on the ugly side. Ugolin looked ugly (he had to pay for sex in the city), he was referred to in the movie as “ugly”, and his very name Ugolin sounds like ugly (répugnant.) The men we see in the village were homely. Further­more, there was the reference to Florette's friend “Scratcher”. “She had the body of an angel. They called her Scratcher because when the boys tried to kiss her she scratched their faces. She used to sharpen her nails especially. But because of this she ended up a spinster and when her parents died she went to work for the priest at Mimet.” The ugly, inbred boys of the village provoked this response when they made their moves on her.

Ugolin for his part was apparently put off by the reek of the village women, which is why he took to raising sweet-smelling carnations. These are natural ways to thwart endogamy. Jean de Florette of the village stock although he had a handsome visage, he was a hunch­back. How­ever, his exogamous wife Aimée (Elisabeth Depardieu) was suitably affectionate to him.

1 Corinthians 7This movie seems to be an object lesson against a too strait­laced view of marriage, esp. for the Christian church. St. Paul replies to the Corinthians' queries about marriage that, (1Cor. 7:7) “every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” God puts in place safe­guards against exclusive endogamy (marriage within the church.) There are also advantages to exogamy (marriage out­side the church), namely an opportunity to spread the gospel through close inter­action. (1Cor. 7:16) “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” Exogamous marriages may be maintained by Christians and also entered into, cf. (1Cor. 3:21-22) “For all things are yours; Whether … the world, or … things present, or things to come; all are your's.”

If Paul had wanted to, say, restrict a widow from an exogamous marriage, he could have told her to marry only in the church, but instead he said, (1Cor. 7:39) “if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” She is to abide in the Lord what­ever course she takes. For elaboration see my study on the chapter.

César ritually baptizes his nephew upon success of their scheme: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I hereby name you King of Carnations!” It's this mixture of the sacred and profane in Christian ritual that Paul specifically prohibits in, (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: ...” For elaboration see my study on the chapter. He's not here addressing whom one is permitted to marry but corporate worship and service.

Production Values

This French picture, “Jean de Florette” (1986) was directed by Claude Berri. It was adapted by Claude Berri and Gerard Brach from Marcel Pagnol's novel L'eau des Collines (The Water from the Hills), 1963. The sequel “Manon des Sources” provides the conclusion, but this one can stand alone—ongoing feuds have no end anyway. It stars Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, and Daniel Auteuil. These three male leads are all excellent, and the supporting cast is, too.

It's rated PG. It's in French with English subtitles. The cinematography is just beautiful, the acting does justice to the characters, and the story unfolds like pages from a classic novel. The theme song “Le Force de Destin” is haunting. Daniel to spite his actor's good looks wore a false nose to make him uglier. Jean's breeding rabbits seemed to carry part of the message, but I shall leave it to the reader to determine what.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This was a slow burn of a tragedy taking off from a village's exclusionary marriage custom serving as an example as heavy as the “white stone” capping the putative water source. Something to think about. There is so much pressure, I find, from religious groups to keep mate selection in-house. This movie gives one pause for unanticipated consequences. As a byproduct it's a pleasant portrayal of country life.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotations were taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Davidson, Lionel. Kolymsky Heights. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. Print.