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Peter Mayle's book is the type-specimen of the expat setting up in a (slightly) foreign land, and a wry set of vignettes of the learning experience. The film (or more properly telemovie) is an absurd - even offensive - exercise in stereotyping which panders to holiday nostalgia and the idea that France is stuck in a primitive past of 'characters' such as those we find in Marcel Pagnol's books/films and their later adaptations. That was 100 years ago! Even then they were 'characters' picked out for their end-of-bell-curve status.
Some reviewers mention with fondness the appalling house guest and the ridiculous Parisienne, both over-the-top embellishments, if not complete inventions. They are simply not believable, ridiculous cardboard cutouts, highly annoying and a complete detractor from the story. I wonder what Peter Mayle himself thinks of the 'extrapolation' of his book.
I will admit to having only watched the first 90 minute episode, but assume the rest is similar. Apart from a bit of personal nostalgia - I love Provence, the old villages and the countryside, and have been through some of the same experiences restoring a house in France (although the day-to-day reality is much more mundane and there are an awful lot of 'normal' people in France who would never make it into this movie) - I found this pastiche of 'characters', Pagnol, scenery and expatriate self indulgence, one of my least satisfying movie experiences for a long time. It's a movie I might well walk out of at the cinema.
I can get the scenery from the Tour de France coverage, the characters in all their richness from Pagnol, and the expat experience from (not always comfortable) reality. Better to watch a travel documentary - skewed of course, but at least some attempt at representing reality in an interesting way.
I don't believe that the smaller vignettes of the book could not have been turned into a movie. Obviously it would require a good storyline into which to weave them, but pickign a few and makign them 'episodes' was an easy way out.
The use of enough English mixed into the conversations as a mechanism to avoid subtitling is quite a good idea, but could have been done much better eg. the characters could have attempted some believable, halting/incorrect version in French and then quickly repeated in English as a sort of verbal subtitle, instead of speaking English at a Frenchman who ostensibly doesn't understand it and then in other places saying something quite fluently in French with an English word thrown in for some common word that they would clearly know (that would work if they were searching for a technical term). The French characters using occasional English words is quite believable. OK, this is a bit picky and might not jar so much on someone who only understands the English, but it could have been one of the saving graces of this film if done better.
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