Movie Review by Lisa Henshall
Starring: Jacques Villeret, Jacques Gamblin, Eric Cantona
Director: Jean Becker
The setting is 1930’s provincial France, a beautiful marshland situated close to a town (the geographical location is never revealed). The story centres around two men: hardworking, loner Garris (Jacques Gamblin), a survivor of World War I who has recently settled in the marsh; and lazy, heavy-drinker Riton (Jacques Villeret) who lives in the marsh with his wife and 3 children. The two men live on what they find in the marsh and sell at the local market: frogs, flowers, snails etc., as well as doing odd-jobs around the town, helped by their learned friend Amedee.
They meet and befriend Pepe, a retired businessman, who grew up in the marshes – he left and found success with his own factory, but still longs for the simple life he once led. Garris meets Marie, a maid who works for a wealthy family, and begins to think he has found love after all the traumas of the war. One evening, when Riton has been drinking heavily, he mistakenly causes a brawl with boxing champion, Joe Sardi (Eric Cantona), in town to promote his latest fight. Sardi, enraged by Riton’s actions, starts a fight which eventually involves by-standers, police officers and the destruction of much of the bar. Riton escapes unscathed, but Sardi is sent to prison which ruins his boxing career. In prison he plots revenge on the unwitting Riton, whom he blames for the incident.
This is a wistful, unhurried film, full of nostalgia with an emphasis on the picturesque beauty of the marshes (overlooked by the local town-dwellers). It has a rustic feel, not dissimilar to the current Stella Artois adverts and the acting is good without being showy, Eric Cantona, in particular, is perfectly cast as the boxer – injecting a level of pathos which helps the audience empathise with him. French comedian Villeret injects the character of Riton with some much needed humour, but despite this, it’s hard to see why Jacques Gamblin’s character Garris has such loyalty towards him.
However, the characters lack depth, the story lacks pace, and even with the introduction of the boxer, the action is over very quickly and any tension is lost immediately. The two central characters are a typical coupling of opposites, but there isn’t enough melancholy to feel moved, and there isn’t enough humour to make you laugh out loud. The deliberately slow pace of the story should have allowed plenty of time for us to get to know the characters and to have been swallowed up by in the enjoyment of their lives & struggles, but at the end of the film you’re just left with a strangely empty feeling. This is no ‘JEAN DE FLORETTE although it obviously aspires to be.