Sunday, August 31, 2008

7th Art: Jean de Florette & Manon des sources (1986)

When I watched the duology "Jean de Florette" & "Manon des Sources" (1986, directed by Claude Berri and based on a book written by Marcel Pagnol) for the first time twenty years ago I was overwhelmed by the power of these movies. I had the opportunity to watch them again recently, magnificently reproduced in HD. These are cinema classics in many different levels. The two-part story -- you have to watch the two back to back -- makes the best out of tragedy narration techniques. The beautiful photography and musical score transport you immediately to the south of France. The cast is wonderful, especially Yves Montand, although I found Emmanuelle Béart somewhat stiff as Manon.

When watching them this time my perception of the story slightly changed. As an urban youngster I sympathized much more with the plight of Jean de Florette (Gérard Depardieu). Now I see in his behavior costly misjudgments of human character that are typical of those who didn't work hard when taking their economic classes.

The use of economics in these movies is commendable. Great examples of information problems, government failure, rational choice, risk, insurance (lack of), neighborhood effects, trust, credit, entrepreneurship, family, technology diffusion, and much more.

The deepest messages however are moral. First, they provide with a great example of how greed is a social problem only when it imposes on other people's freedoms. Jean de Florette and César Soubeyran were both greedy in the economic sense; nonetheless Florette was a righteous person who didn't impose on its neighbors' freedoms and therefore his greediness contributed to society, while Soubeyran was a crook that believed that attaining his own political and economic goals superseded the freedoms of his neighbors. Second, it shows that promoting evil against humanity is the same as promoting evil against yourself.

The movies are fortunately a fictitious tragedy. The real tragedy is that their moral and economic lessons have not yet been understood by most.

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