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
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Sandrine does well, modernizing outdated machinery and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
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..