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22 Une Hirondelle a Fait Le Printemps
(The Girl from Paris - UK, USA, festival title)
(One Swallow Brought Spring - International: English title)

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Sandrine Dumez, caught up in a traffic jam in Paris notices a travel poster of Vercours (in the Rhone Alps) on the bus in front of her. This triggers a dream of a new rural life. Sandrine has had enough of city traffic jams and smog. She yearns to live a rural idyl in the French Alps.

Turned 30, she plans to become a farmer. She decides to abandon her city job in IT (she teaches people how to use the internet) along with her relationship with her boyfriend, and fulfil her dream. To the consternation of her mother, she goes to Agricultural school.

Sandrine is a gifted student, one of the best in her school. Soon she is ready to invest 450,000 Francs in a remote rural goat farm in the Vercours, found by her agricultural instructor. Sandrine is played beautifully by Mathilde Seigner, the sister of French star Emmanuelle Seigner.

The farm is a remote dairy farm, being sold by Adrien Rochas (Michel Serrault), an irascible, gruff, reclusive old widower. Unfortunately there is a catch. Adrien will continue to live in a cottage near the farmhouse for 18 months, until he can move into the new flat being prepared by his son in Grenoble.

Adrien looks forward to watching the new owner fail miserably. But Sandrine uses her internet expertise to transform the place into a tourist attraction. Sandrine quickly turns the failing farm into a profitable one, using a Web site to lure tourists to her gîte the "Balcony in the Sky". She also economises in imaginative ways, for example inviting schoolchildren to work as free labour to harvest strawberries.

Sandrine does well, modernizing outdated machinery and selling her goat cheese on the Internet. Her first spring and summer are a success, but Adrien questions whether she will be able to continue over the harsh winter. Two strong wills face up to each other as the attentions of Sandrine's exboyfriend from Paris (Frédéric Pierrot) bubble away in the background.

They both know that Adrien could help, but she is too proud to ask. And he is too proud to offer. By the winter Adrien is more interested in helping Sandriner than he could ever admit, even to himself. Moulded in the long tradition of French peasant farmers, he uses underhanded means to encourage her into asking for assistance.

In time, They develop a grudging respect and affection for each other, and when Adrien learns of Sandrine's plan to take a vacation in Paris during the worst of the winter, he rails at her "You don't deserve my farm''

Gradually we learn why Adrien is so bitter. Michel Serrault is one of the finest actors in the world. You can hardly believe that this man is the same actor who played The Great ZaZa in La Cage aux Folles. He seems to be a genuine, bitter, cantankerous old farmer who has spent a lifetime of hard work on his isolated dairy farm. The character is perfectly realised and deeply moving. Sandrine learns about the farm's history, the losses he has borne, and the lonely silence of life alone in a harsh environment. Adrien has worn his emotional armour for so long that he no longer knows how to take it off and Sandrine remains wary of him.

Now the plot is not really the main thing here - in a sense I just gave the plot away. The attraction is in the subtlety of the characterisation and the beauty of the story telling. On top of a simple tale of an unlikely friendship, there are numerous secondary themes. The French attachment to its rural past, the changing nature of rural life, the new role of the European Community in agriculture. Life is hard on remote farms, and scenes of animal slaughter are reminders to city audiences of where their neatly packaged superr-hygenic meat really comes from (if they are exceptionally lucky). There are also generational differences. Adrien makes no bones about saying that Sandrine "will never make it without a man.''

The relationship between the two principals is complex. Adrien resents having to leave his home. He is horrified at the thought of being displaced by someone else, and not just another farmer but someone from the city, an inexperienced young city girl. She is aware of what she has given up in Paris, and also what she has gained. Sitting on her horse she gazes at a hang glider gracefully circling the Alps. (There are breathtaking Arial shots of the Vercours). She also knows what a difficult task she has taken on. Early on she asks Adrien if he will help with the farm work, but at that stage he would rather watch her fail.

This two hander is fleshed out by strong support in the shape of Adrien's neighbour and contemporary, Jean (Jean-Paul Roussillon) Adrien's only friend. He recently sold his own farm whch permits him him to spend his time driving around in his new Volvo with his dog Pharaoh. There are also Sandrine's lover and colleague from Paris Gérard (Frédéric Pierrot); and Sandrine's mother played by Françoise Bette.

The scenery is magnificent, the characters powerful. Like the best storytellers, Carion drip feeds information about his characters, building them into real people. You could call it an elemental story in all senses.

The film is usually called in English The Girl from Paris. In French it is Une hirondelle a fait le printemps - roughly "One Swallow Made The Summer". Why is was thought necessary to replace a a good title by a bad one is one of the many mysteries typical of the film industry in the English speaking world though outside the US & the UK it is sometimes titled by a literal translation "One Swallow Brought Spring" - which completely loses the parallel English idiom.

The film is the feature debut of Christian Carion, whose 1993 documentary for the French Ministry of Agriculture presumably inspired this story..

Genre: Comedy / Drama
103 min
Country: France
Director: Christian Carion
Writing credits:
Christian Carion and
Eric Assous
Produced by Christophe Rossignon
Original Music: Philippe Rombi
Cinematography: Antoine Héberlé
Colour: Colour
Sound Mix: Dolby SR

Michel Serrault - Adrien Rochas
Mathilde Seigner - Sandrine Dumez
Jean-Paul Roussillon - Jean
Frédéric Pierrot - Gérard
Marc Berman - Stéphane
Françoise Bette - La mère de Sandrine
Christophe Rossignon - L'exploitant
Roland Chalosse - barman
Achiles Francisco Varas dell'Aquila - Barfly
Henri Pasquale - Card player
Paul Courat - Card player
Bernard Gerland - Card player
Ramon Bertrand - Card player
Grazziela Horens - Dark-haired girl
Vincent Borei - Dark-haired boy

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