In the 30s, a small village in the South of France (Provence) is losing its inhabitants (and so its life) because young people prefer to go to the city to find easy jobs and escape from being farmers living in relative poverty. Only a few old people and the poacher Panturle (Gabriel Gabrio) remain. Panturle dreams of bringing the village back to life, finding a wife, founding a family and work as a farmer. One day, the village is visited by a traveling knife-grinder, Urbain Gedemus (the famous French comedian Fernandel, playing for the first time a mean character) and a young (and beautiful) woman, Arsule (played by the wonderful Orane Demazis). Gedemus treats Arsule like a slave, but Arsule accept this because she has nowhere to go and -we guess- her 'work' with Gedemus is the last thing that saves her from being a prostitute. When she meets Panturle and knows about his dreams, she escapes from Gedemus and decides to stay with him. Together, they start a new life, made of hard farming work but mostly of happiness to have each other - fulfilling the earlier dreams of Panturle. Can anything break the happiness of their new life?
Regain (which means renewed in French) is a wonderful movie by its simplicity and generosity. It glorifies modesty in life, the love for the land and honest work. As always in the work of Jean Giono (the writer of the novel on which the film is based), the story is a hymn to nature and ordinary people. The plot of the movie is reduced to its simplest form. It is the story of two people finding their right place on Earth and the right person to spend their life with. Marcel Pagnol shows that this simple story is enough to make a good movie.
The whole movie is built on the theme of a counter-stream movement. Panturle and Arsule have chosen to go counter mainstream as they decide to stay in the village while all the people leave it to escape the relatively poor living conditions of the countryside. This film can also be viewed as the reverse of the legend of Adam and Eve, i.e. Adam and Eve being evicted from the Garden of Eden whereas Panturle and Arsule reach it. Even Fernandel is employed here counter to his usual type of role. However, such considerations are not important to appreciate the movie.
This movie reminds us that Marcel Pagnol also was a Panturle in his own way. At a time when all movies (in France) were made in Paris studios by big companies, Marcel Pagnol was the first independent director of the talking movie era, founding his own studios in the south of France and controlling all the process of filmmaking (writing, producing and filming on location). For his style as a director, it has been said that he had inspired the Italian neo-realist movement. 'Regain' is one of the four novels by Jean Giono that Marcel Pagnol adapted for the cinema (the others being Jofroi, 1933; Angele, 1934; La femme du boulanger, 1938), most of these movies being classic French movies of the 30s.
Wonderful. Highly recommended 10/10.