As a young girl, I often dreamt of living on a farm where I could linger longingly at the ice-capped mountains, the lush green pastures, and the wistful wide-open spaces like a spiritual wanderer. No doubt much of this rustic fantasy was due to my maternal need to be both caregiver and friend to the countless array of barnyard animals---the cows, goats, horses, pigs, and rabbits, who would roam straight into my heart. But after seeing Christian Carrion's The Girl From Paris (Une Hirondelle A Fait Le Printemps), my lifelong dream of becoming a contemporary version of Heidi has quickly vanished.
Seeking the solitude of the French countryside, 30-year-old Sandrine Dumez (Mathilde Seigner) decides to trade in her job as a well-paid computer engineer and journey to the pristine Rhône Alps, where she buys an established dairy farm from a reticent farmer named Adrien Rochas (Michel Serrault) on the take it or leave it condition that the stubborn old-timer can remain living on the farm until retiring,18 months later, to the beautiful city of Grenoble.
Of course, as The Girl From Paris unfolds, the audience soon discovers that Adrien merely wants to stay on the farm, so he can watch the young, inexperienced Parisian fail, smugly smirking as Sandrine shrewdly uses the Internet to sell goat cheese to her German neighbors. While turning Adrien's beloved family farm into an idyllic retreat aptly titled, "Le Balcon du Ciel" (The Balcony of Heaven). Outraged by this unconventional approach to agriculture, Adrien viciously points out to longtime friend and former dairy farmer, Jean (the lovable Jean-Paul Roussillon) that one swallow does not a spring make. Meaning, like the literal French title suggests, the harsh winter conditions of the rugged Rhône Alps will either make or break this nimble novice.
Turning a deaf ear to Adrien's archaic assumption that women are more qualified to churn butter rather than milk cows, Sandrine sets out to prove herself not only to Adrien, but also to her meddlesome mother (Françoise Bette), who seems hell-bent on reuniting her willful daughter with the acquiescent Gérard (Fréderic Pierrot). But as Sandrine rolls up her sleeves like a goat-herding maiden a la Manon of the Spring, she is forced to grapple with a series of bucolic tests---the most deplorable of which is the stillbirth of two baby goats--that measure her strength as both farmer and woman.
Terrified of becoming a human ice sickle during a severe winter storm that unexpectedly leaves her without power, Sandrine hikes through the snow to Adrien's tiny nearby cottage, so she can use his telephone. Ironically, the crotchety old goat tells Sandrine to give up on the local power company---they're a bunch of lazy, no good louts who will let you freeze before traipsing through the glacial French Alps during the dead of winter---and invites her to wait out the snowstorm in his cozy, centrally heated chalet. Stunned by this surprising display of chivalry, Sandrine quickly accepts Adrien's generous offer, forging a unique father-daughter relationship with this sentimental, yet stringent stranger.
Nominated for two Césars in 2002, The Girl From Paris mirrors the work of Marcel Pagnol, right on down to its organic view of nature. Carion, a first-time feature length director who worked as the assistant director on the French Ministry of Agriculture's 1993 documentary, Je m'enfriche; tu t'en fiches? , realistically depicts the everyday drama of farm life with vivid, unflinching aplomb, going as far as to show a pig being brutally slaughtered, so as to drive home the stark emotionality of farming.
But The Girl From Paris's greatest accomplishment isn't its majestic cinematographer, or its moving character study, but its natural ease. Michel Serrault (La Cage aux Folles) and Mathilde Seigner (With a Friend Like Harry) give such wonderfully understated performances, conveying more emotional depth with each passing glance than most actors can express with 20-pages of dialogue that their acting prowess alone, invites viewers to simply set back, relax, and enjoy this brilliant film for its unbridled artistry, rather than its inane provincial adage: "How you gonna keep 'em down in Paree after they've seen the farm?"
The Girl From Paris is in French with English subtitles.
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