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Restored to its pristine clarity and monochromatic sheen, Pagnol's HARVEST ought to give any new audience a jolting idea of where lies the high water mark of 'cinéma de papa'
The term "cinéma de papa" naturally elicits a derogative whiff that retroactively applied to the vast output of pre-Nouvelle Vague French cinema, Marcel Pagnol's HARVEST could reinstate its good name for its grand integrating subjective realism into its honest-to-goodness, down-home simplicity of a sophisticated ode to the land, peasantry, and humanity itself.
Based on Jean Giono's 1930 novel SECOND HARVEST, the film's mythos revolves around a forsaken village Aubignane, inhabited solely by middle-aged bachelor hunter Panturle (Gabrio) after the departure of the senile Monsieur Gaubert (Delmont, 54 years old at then, a master of mimicking geriatric comportment), the blacksmith who moves in with his son Jasmin (Blavette) in the town, and aunt Mamèche (Moreno), who promises to find Panturle a wife and then vanishes the next day.
Meanwhile, a peripatetic knife-sharpener Urbain Gédémus (Fernandel), rescues a damsel-in-distress Arsule (Demazis), but treats her badly as an abject helping hand. When they trundle about the purlieus of Aubignane, Arsule is startled by a mysterious hopping, black-clad figure, whom Gédémus dismisses as the figment of her paranoia. One night, they rescue an accidentally drowning Panturle who trails them and is besotted with Arsule, who, eventually elopes with him without notifying Gédémus. Soon the pair realizes the black figure is actually Mamèche, acting like a divine magnet bringing Arsule to the rough diamond Panturle, who is in desperate need of a woman's ministration and tenacity to revitalize Aubignane. Borrowing wheat seeds from his friend, Panturle toils in the field while Arsule presides over domestic chores and arrangement, soon they reap what they sow, their first harvest comes to fruition and life starts to prosper.
When Gédémus chances upon Arsule in the town, he and Panturle have a bargain to make, each respectively equipped with street-smart and cracker-barrel sagacity, the final outcome is a win-win situation (albeit Magnol's dextrous teasing of a sharp knife changing hands between the two men) and a second harvest for Aubignane is foreseeable near the end when Jasmin decides to move back to take care of the land after his father's demise and Arsule shares the joy of pregnancy with Panturle.
Perfervidly compassionate towards his rural characters, Pagnol's literacy of limning a pastoral landscape has no boundaries, the awe-struck reconstruction work of its location far outstrips the Hollywood's stock-of-trade artificiality of its time. Occasionally archly jumpy (during Gédémus and Arsule's several bivouacking nights), the film's tenor sustains on a fetching level of genuine bonhomie and unassuming jocularity. Fernandel is smack in his elements with his long-winded chirpiness, not without a knowing trace of cunningness in its dulcet cadence, whereas Gabriel Gabrio and Orane Demazis, both effuse unaffected modesty and down-to-earth earnestness for audience to root for their hard-earned happiness. Restored to its pristine clarity and monochromatic sheen, HARVEST ought to give any new audience a jolting idea of where lies the high water mark of "cinéma de papa".
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