(Une hirondelle a fait le printemps) Directed by Christian Carion, starring Michel Serrault and Mathilde Seigner.
Bored with city life, 30-year-old Sandrine (Seigner) decides to quit her IT job and follow a childhood dream of being a farmer. Signing up for a government scheme, she is to take over a goat farm in the Rhone Alps from widower Adrien (Serrault). While Sandrine gives the old man a good price, he's none too happy about leaving his family's homestead and cuts a deal that he can stay on for 18 months - determined to watch the woman fail. But with her computer experience and business savy, Sandrine drags the farm into the 21st Century, advertising eco holidays and her cheeses online and leaving Adrien with a mountain of humble pie to get through before winter.
Before pursuing his childhood dream behind the lens, director Carion grew up on a farm and worked in France's Agricultural Department. It shows. With a reverence for both people and place, 'The Girl from Paris' is a simple joy from beginning to end, capturing everyday life and the desire of the lonely to leave the past behind. Despite the presence of two of France's biggest actors, this is Carion's debut feature but his script and direction hums with a confidence that many spend entire careers trying to reach.
Nothing too major happens here, there are changes of seasons and hearts, but the scenes between Serrault and Seigner are great - the highs and lows of their relationship leaving you either wanting to hug them or knock their heads together. As the bitter Adrien, Serrault conveys years of pent-up rage while remaining very, very still. While Seigner is both sensuous and credible as the city escapee who makes a go of things. Together they're one of the most life-affirming duos of recent years, equal parts tetchy and tender, raising issues of the urban/rural divide with the lightest of touches. Carion makes lots of good points about farmers and officialdom too, but they never, ever detract or chill the heartwarming nature of the story.
'The Girl from Paris' was a surprise hit in France, with 2 million plus paying to see it and a clutch of nominations at the French Oscars. It's a shame that it's showing on such a limited release here, because this is a film with as much relevance for the rural cinema as it does for the multiplex and deserves to be seen by as many as possible. Doubtless a print is also doing the rounds in Hollywood by now - don't wait for the suits to ruin it.