Dir: Christian Carion. France. 103mins.
While many French films deal with provincials who seek love and fortune in the big city (ie Paris), first-time director Christian Carion's Une Hirondelle A Fait Le Printemps takes the reverse tack: a young city-slicker who abandons a successful career to live off the land. Although it is a theme which is often served with comic dressing, here it is treated with utmost seriousness, but in a fairly conventional dramatic manner. Despite mixed reviews, this first production by ex-Lazennec producer Christophe Rossignon (La Haine) under his own Nord-Ouest Productions banner, has seen just over 2 million admissions after seven weeks, is still on more than 410 screens and has become the sleeper success story of the new local season. Bolstered by two appealing central performances, it has enough Gallic warmth and wisdom to make a modest bid for foreign play.
Mathilde Seigner is a 30-year-old Parisienne who decides to quit her computer job to fulfil her childhood dream of living on a farm. After a period of professional training, she moves up to the Vercors where she buys the goat farm of an ageing local (Serrault). Part of the contract stipulates that Serrault can remain on the land for another year before taking his retirement. Knowing these elements alone, you can pretty much predict the dramatic arc of the script: crotchety rustic patriarch meets presumptuous young urbanite and friction ensues in a period of trial-and-error cohabitation.
But despite the feel-good factor lurking at the script's edges, Carion practices restraint in his depiction of two worlds and two generations. Serrault, one of French cinema's great scenery-chewers, turns in a moving and uncommonly low-keyed performance as a man watching his environment undergo profound permutations he can neither understand nor accept. As a farmer's son, Carion knows whereof he speaks and in one of the film's highlights, Serrault recalls the horror of the day the authorities embarked to remove his foot-and-mouth-diseased cows by force. Carion also does well in the many scenes between Serrault and fellow farmer and best friend Jean-Paul Roussillon.
Seigner, on the other hand, is somewhat short-changed by her role, which skims over the difficulties of her apprenticeship and her own predictable quandary about whether to return to the city and a still caring ex-boyfriend or stick it out on the farm and weather the loneliness of her new life. The audience, of course, knows the answer before she does. Still, Seigner has enough feistiness and un-neurotic screen presence to win our sympathies as a mature, un-neurotic young woman determined to follow her dream.
Prod cos: Productions du Nord-Oest, Artemis, Mars Film, M.S. Production
Int'l dist: Films distribution
Exec prod: Christophe Rossignon
Scr: Carion and Eric Assous
Cinematographer: Antoine Heberle
Ed: Andrea Sedlackova
Prod des: Jean-Michel Simonet
Mus: Philippe Rombi
Main cast: Mathilde Seigner, Michel Serrault, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Frederic Pierrot, Marc Berman