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MANON OF THE SPRING

           

From the Jan. 22, 1988, Deseret News

MANON OF THE SPRING — Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Beart; in French with English subtitles; rated PG (nudity, profanity, violence)

The most eagerly awaited sequel of 1988 is not "Rambo III," surprise, surprise. It's "Manon of the Spring" — at least for those of us who savored "Jean de Florette."

"Jean de Florette," last year's best foreign-language film, and one of the best films to come along in many years in any language, had an open ending, promising vengeance on the part of the title character's young daughter for the wrongs done to her family by the last two survivors of the Soubeyrans.

"Manon of the Spring" delivers on that promise but the revenge dealt out here is not of the Charles Bronson variety. This is much more subtle, and in the end it is "Papet" Soubeyran (Yves Montand) who undoes himself with his own pride and greed. (The twist ending will knock your socks off — and what a sense of justice you will feel.)

But this is low-key drama, and, if anything, "Manon" is even more low-key than "Jean de Florette."

The strength in "Manon," as with "Jean," is in the storytelling technique of co-writer/director Claude Berri. The characters and period are rich, the story thoroughly engrossing and the emotions built up are genuine.

In addition, Berri pays incredible attention to detail, so that you will feel you are really in this small, unsophisticated rural area of France during the 1930s.

"Manon" begins 10 years after the ending of "Jean de Florette," with Manon (Emmanuelle Beart) now a woman, living in the hills near her father's former home, herding goats and hiding from people who pass by.

Meanwhile, Soubeyran and his nephew Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) have made the fields rich with their carnations, using the spring they plugged up before Jean lived there, and which Manon saw them unplug after her father died.

Manon is considered a "savage" by the villagers, but that doesn't stop the new schoolteacher from falling in love with her. And it doesn't stop Ugolin from becoming infatuated with her as well.

Naturally, Ugolin's feelings don't sit very well with his uncle, and the conflict begins. But it really takes hold when Manon, purely by chance, stumbles on a way to punish not only the two Soubeyrans — but the entire village.

How she does that, and what follows won't be revealed here. Suffice it to say that if you have missed the kind of fully developed storytelling the movies used to take for granted, "Manon of the Spring" continues the tale of "Jean de Florette" just as fluidly and magnificently as its predecessor.

Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Beart (yes, believe it or not, the same woman who starred in the awful "Date With an Angel" last year) are very good here, as is the entire supporting cast. But it is Yves Montand who stands head and shoulders above the rest in delivering nothing short of the performance of his career. Come Oscar time, he should be in the best actor category. He won't be, but he should be.

And Plitt Theaters is doing a very wise thing by bringing the first film — "Jean de Florette" — back to the Utah Theater, so that if you haven't seen it you can do so before taking in "Manon."

There's no better double-bill in town, though they are at separate theaters. And, in fact, despite all the fine films playing right now – there are no better movies in town, period.

"Manon of the Spring" is rated PG for a brief nude scene, a profanity or two and some violence.