Manon des Sources (1986)
Director: Claude Berri
Cast: Yves Montand, Emmanuelle Beart, Daniel Auteuil
Runtime: 112 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
Months after Jean de Florette was received warmly by the filmgoing public, Claude Berri released Manon des Sources, a continuation of the story that proved to be equally as brilliant as its prequel, if not moreso. In fact, Manon des Sources may well be the greatest sequel of all time. It certainly beats The Godfather: Part II, Back to the Future Part II and Lethal Weapon 2, my other favourite sequels. It is a powerful, haunting and completely unforgettable conclusion to a story that will stay with me forever.
It picks up many years after the conclusion of Jean de Florette, in which Cesar (Yves Montand) and Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) have acquired the property owned by the late Jean, whose death they are responsible for. Now, Cesar and Ugolin are enjoying the profitable farming business when Manon, the daughter of Jean, makes her subtle arrival and plots revenge for the death of her father. Ugolin becomes hopelessly smitten with her, but Manon will have none of it. She quickly puts her plan into action, and the results are absolutely devastating. I will reveal none of it, though if you’re reading this, I sincerely hope you’ve seen both films.
The chief difference between Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources is that the atmosphere and attitude of Manon is significantly darker. After the wonder and comedy of the first film, Manon sets in to make its point painfully clear, and as it moves on and on through to its stunning conclusion we can only feel the situation deteriorating for everyone involved. This will not end well. We know that from the start. But Berri is deliberately deceptive in tricking our thoughts and expectations. What starts off as a wondrous French comedy with elements of drama turns into something far, far darker completely unexpectedly. We feel things heading down a dangerous road but it’s not until Berri really shifts into gear halfway through this movie that we realize just how horrific this journey is about to become.
Manon des Sources’ devastation is necessary, I feel. Cesar and Ugolin have been horrible people, and while we certainly don’t hate them, it is obvious during Jean de Florette and especially at its ending that they deserve punishment. They seem to be dragging themselves carelessly along a road, ignoring the end in sight and welcoming the pain it brings. The relatively stolid Cesar finds his life falling apart toward the end of the film, as a blind woman tells him something he wasn’t expecting and we can see the tears welling in his eyes – and ours. Manon des Sources is a stunning and powerful conclusion to a story that is nothing short of heartbreaking; amazing to experience and even more profitable and expansive to reflect upon afterwards.