The story is set during World War One in south eastern France. A family, despite being notorious for being less-than-hospitable with strangers, hides a mysterious mute deserter in the cellar. Is he French or German, they wonder. At the same time as they hide the man from the gendarmes, they also --apparently-- try to hide some terrible family secret by pretending than an abandoned hamlet in the mountain --Malatèrra-- is cursed and should not be visited. There are several intertwined plots: the mysterious stranger, the investigation by the authorities in this rural community, the family secrets; all set against the harsh reality of life in an area depleted of its adult male population.
Contrary to the usual portrayal of such times and places in French films (in which everybody speaks Parisian French and wears designer clothes), the characters here speak mostly Occitan and wear unkempt clothes. Also, contrary to the usual French (and British) clichés about Provence, the village is cold and sometimes dark.
A refreshing alternative to the clichéd films about Provence, the story is sometimes overly sombre though. A whodunit coupled with a very true portrayal of what rural life must have been like in the Provençal Alps one hundred years ago make up for all the cheesy films about Provence usually made by French directors. Definitely worth watching -- except if you're a fan of Peter Mayle ;-)
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