As the follow up to his prize winning pair Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources, Claude Berri has chosen an adaptation of Marcel Ayme's novel.
Set in a heavily bombed French town at the end of the Second World War the story tells of the fear and recrimination that arose from the conflict between the rival factions of ex-Resistance Communists,and the supporters of the pro-Vichy regime. With the Germans gone the Communists are in control and for most of the town's population the question "what did you do in the occupation" is a non-starter.As a result of the bombardment a well to do Christian family lead by the stoical M Archambaud (Marielle) are forced to share thier home with a widowed schoolteacher Watrin (Noiret) and a hard line communist family. To make matters worse Archambaud takes pity on a former quisling Maxime Loin and agrees to shelter him secretly in his already overcrowded abode.
Having established all the perils and possibilities of this intriguing social set up the director shifts the focus to local bar, and from then on the bulk of the film's action revolves around the character of Leopold,( Depardieu) . A former circus strongman with a big mouth and heavy drink habit Leopold runs the bar which, for the moment, doubles as the schoolhouse.After hearing Watrin recite Racine's epic poem Andromaque, Leopold decides that he too will become a poet. Fuelled by his grandiose fantasy he makes enemies out of Rochard and Jourdan a pair of fanatical Communists who share an over zealous fondness for "purging."Consequently Leopold is destined to become the scapegoat for the whole community.
Manipulating his characters and their individual stories with a subtle and economical brilliance Berri offers a sympathetic and non-judgemental study of what happens to people during and after wartime . The result is a moving account of human dignity and moral frailty, highlighted, but by no means dominated by Depardieu's towering central performance.Well worth the price of a large popcorn.