Monday, 6 May 2013

Une hirondelle a fait le printemps...

                         Red, white, and blue of
                         patriotic homecoming -
                         the first barn swallow.

                         On an azure ground,
                         the flicks of an artist's brush -
                         swallows on the wing.

                         Staring at the sky,
                         spots swimming before my eyes -
                         childhood memories.

...but "one swallow doesn't make a summer".  It's funny how the British and the French remember different parts of the proverb.

I saw my first swallow today, and it really is starting to feel like spring; as well it should given that it is 6 May and at 22:00 last night there was still light in the sky here at 56 degrees north.  It really has been a long, long winter, and from the Pentland Hills this morning I could still see snow, both on the mountains to the north and, in smaller patches, on the border hills, but there is a definite change in the air. 

Today' recommendation, to go with the return of the swallows, is one of my favourite films: Une hirondelle a fait le printemps (which was re-titled: The Girl from Paris for UK and US release).  The film is about a young woman, Sandrine, (Mathilde Seigner) who, bored with her IT training job in Paris, enrols in a government scheme designed to help stem the tide of rural depopulation by matching agricultural students with small farmers wishing to retire.

                              *** SPOILER ALERT ***

After a placement on a farm where she fails to be discouraged by her introduction to pig-slaughter (in a manner that chimes with my Mum's recollections of growing up on her grandparents' farm in the 1940's, but which I'm sure would not meet current EU animal welfare and hygiene standards, so be prepared to look away and put your fingers in your ears at that point) Sandrine is matched with widower Adrien (Michel Serrault) who wishes to retire from his farm in the Vercors.

This sets up the classic battle between Sendrine with her new ideas (selling chèvre over the Internet, running part of the property as a gîte) and dyed-in-the-wool Adrien.  In other hands it could be just another re-hashing of a common movie trope, but Seigner and Serrault (especially) are just brilliant in there respective roles.  Added to the battle of wills with Adrien are Sandrine's personal battles with the weather and with the isolation.

As we learn more about Adrien's life, the hardships he has endured and the horrors he has witnessed, the reasons for his bitterness become apparent and this sets the scene for a thawing in the relationship between the two protagonists.  Following the thaw in their relationship comes the thawing of the winter snows, and Sandrine takes a break back in Paris.

As Sandrine tries to decide if she is really cut out for the hardship of life on the Vercors plateau, an unexpected twist takes her back to the Vercors and the (slightly ambiguous) dénouement.

There are any number of touching moments in the film, but the two that stand out for me are the visit to the farm by Sandrine's former colleague and lover, and the scene where Sandrine finds an old gramophone and Adrien invites her to dance to the record that had been his and his wife's favourite.  Both are so beautifully acted that they bring tears to my eyes.

If you can, do try to catch this film at your local art-house cinema, on DVD, or on your movie-streaming service of choice.

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