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The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)
"L'homme qui plantait des arbres" (original title)

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Ratings: 8.5/10 from 3,829 users  
Reviews: 36 user | 9 critic

The story of one shepherd's long and successful singlehanded effort to re-forest a desolate valley.

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Title: The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 8 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »

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This film tells the story of a shepard who repairs the ruined ecosystem of a secluded valley by singlehandedly cultivating a forest over a thirty year period. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

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11 June 1988 (Japan)  »

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The Man Who Planted Trees  »

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Jean Giono, the author of the short story upon which the movie is based, wrote the story after American editors in 1953 asked him to write a few pages about an unforgettable character. They intended him to write about a real unforgettable character, but he created the fictional Elezeard Bouffier. When the editors objected that no Bouffier had died in Banon, he donated the story to all humanity. It was soon after published by Vogue in 1954. Many people have assumed that Bouffier is a real person. See more »

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"I find, after all, that a man's destiny can be truly wonderful"
16 February 2009 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Frédéric Back's 'The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)' is the one short film that has been fervently recommended to me above all others, and I'm surprised that it took me so very long to get around to it {fortunately, my stubbornness proved beneficial, since I was able to hold out for a high-quality copy}. My only previous experience with Back was his first Oscar-nominated effort 'All Nothing (1980)' in May 2007, and I enjoyed its artistry, even if the basis in Creationism kept me distanced from its central themes. This effort, arguably Back's most celebrated, tells the story of Elezeard Bouffier, an old shepherd who singlehandedly created a forest through decades of planting seeds. Though I initially assumed that Bouffier was a real-life figure, he was, in fact, a fictional creation of author Jean Giono, who apparently perpetuated the misconception. Either way, this shepherd's story is powerful and inspirational, Back's animation giving life to Giono's uplifting tale.

When I recall Frédéric Back's work, the first contemporary animator who comes to mind is Aleksandr Petrov, whose paint-on-glass animation allows similar dream-like visuals that morph from one image to another like a shifting desert landscape. 'The Man Who Planted Trees' doesn't resemble a moving oil painting, as does Petrov's work, but instead bears a slightly more minimalistic pastel-sketching style. Even so, the attention-to-detail is simply staggering. For the film's opening half, the colour palette is largely sepia-toned, emphasising the sheer barrenness of the desert, with bare rocks and coarse weeds lashed by a dry, bitter wind. As Bouffier plants his trees, Back gradually introduces colour into his work, symbolising the physical and spiritual rebirth of the region. My single slight criticism with the film is that the narration should probably have been used more sparingly. As warm as I found Christopher Plummer's voice, I think that some scenes would have proved more powerful had the viewer been left to his own accord, to absorb for himself the breathtaking beauty of Back's animation.

'The Man Who Planted Trees' serves, I think, as a fine counterpoint to Back's previous short film, 'All Nothing.' In the latter, a dissatisfied Mankind rapes and pillages the life that his Creator has placed upon the planet. In this film, Mankind gives back to nature; rather than destroying life, Bouffier creates it himself, even as two World Wars rage overhead. On at least two occasions, the narrator {Christopher Plummer in the English-language version, Philippe Noiret in the French} remarks that what Bouffier accomplished makes him something akin to God. Indeed, the government officials who arrive to observe his forest can think of no other explanation for the miraculous rebirth, declaring it an astonishing natural phenomenon. Nobody can believe that all this joy could have been created by the hand of a single man. I interpreted this as a touchingly humanist statement. After all, if an old shepherd like Elezeard Bouffier can give rise to such life, why, indeed, do we need a God at all?


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