Part Two of the classic French rural drama conveys a slightly darker and vindictive personality compared to its other film brother, Jean de Florette. Sure, Florette has Yves Montand’s aged, conniving Papet and Daniel Auteuil’s irresolute Ugolin conspire to overthrow the new outsider planting crops next to their land, and has murder in the name of heritage preservation written all over its landscape, the second act Manon des Sources transforms the themes of greed and monopoly into a revenge saga and ultimately, a tragic spectacle of human culpability. Here, villain Cesar Soubeyran takes the backseat as the story allows the enchanting, free-spirited Manon, the daughter of the ill-fated Jean de Florette, unleash her beautiful vengeance on the two neighbouring crooks. While she’s not busy shepherding flocks and flouncing around mountains, occasionally naked like a nymph, she’s stooping into caves, blocking secret main sources of water and letting people down the hills suffer in thirst and agricultural drought. Emmanuelle Béart plays Manon sumptuously, all sun-kissed beauty and pastoral grace, but her loathing is often impulsive rather than calculating, which lessens the gravity of her revenge at the end. Autueil’s Ugolin, meanwhile, a character less regarded in the first film, also takes centre stage as he becomes hopelessly captivated by Manon’s charms, literally sewing her hair ribbon into his chest. His tragedy is further given more resonance when Cesar learns a bitter truth, a tragic twist of fate in his own making, that the man he once plotted to kill was his one true heir. Yves Montand’s sobering, heart-wrenching performance in the final act almost overshadows everything in this film.
Some nitpicky contrivances aside, Manon des Sources stands up right alongside its film brotherJean de Florette. Berri concludes this Provençal melodrama in sumptuous fashion, with a beautiful, aggrieved shepherdess seeking retribution and an avaricious landowner facing his own tragic, self-made comeuppance.