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kenmorefield

The Man Who Planted Trees

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Ken,

I'm pleased that you've discovered this little gem. It was mentioned at least once previously here in conjunction with Sam Phillips mention of the author. I've read the book numerous times -- always very satisfying. The film (an Academy Award winner in 1988) is somewhat scarce and expensive, but a delight.

There is a line that always leaps out at me, describing the shepherd's accomplishment as "a work worthy of God" (or words to that effect). -- which clearly overstates the case except that it's somewhat correct. Indeed, the transformation of an entire region through such humble diligence is indeed a godly accomplishment. This story (both in book form and on film) made a rather profound impression on me, and I think of it often. It likely was the seed that planted a desire for my life to reflect the same calm determination and patient faithfulness as Elzeard Bouffier.

tw


"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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I love this film and Fr

Edited by Doug C

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Wow, Doug -- that retrospective would have been such a treat! Thanks for the note about the DVD set, too -- that's a major bargain. The last time I checked, the VHS of TMWPT was still $99.

(and it includes "an exclusive interview with Jean Giono"...)

Edited by Tim Willson

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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I think that culturally we tend to be attracted to the big gestures--even in Christian circles. We can focus on the magnificent generosity of the million dollar donation or the huge sacrifice, often failing to see the equal magnificence of constancy. There is something magnificent in the the person who is steadfast in a virtue as well as one who is extravagant in it.

Yeah, we really loved the film, Ken. I know that a lot of what I liked on a thematic level is wrapped up in what you identified above: the ability to look at a life breathed by God and assess it not by reference to a moment or a discrete event, but rather by looking at a broad picture of persistent, habitual commitment to something larger. It's so inspiring.


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Such a lovely film. Immediately I thought of two friends I had to share it with.

Certainly an inspiring quality to it. As I work away in my little 120 seat theatre, just doing plays I care about, no empires to be built, no big splashes to be made, no worlds to take by storm, I've grown into an approach to the work that finds a lot of affinity with this little film. You do it because it's there to do, because it seems like someone ought to do it, because you can. The rewards are all intrinsic.

There's a line in the film about the man finding a particular quality of happiness in his single-minded, unhurried task. I can't wait to see it again, to take note of that phrase.

Knowing that Doug prizes this as a "spiritual" film, I guess I was particularly tuned to the "God stuff" in it. It seems to me that the film quietly celebrates the fact that this is specifically a man's accomplishment, as opposed to God's. Another point that seems to personify God (maybe called "Providence" at that point?) as being jealous, or destructive, or vindictive, or some such. I'll jot some things down next time through, see if I can be more specific, but I find the film sets up a curious sort of tension between deeply Christian values - servanthood, earthkeeping, longsuffering - and a certain almost-hubris, a so-quiet-as-to-be-missable "See what Man can do, to restore what God has destroyed or neglected." I wouldn't want to overstate that, but it seems to me to be there. Anybody else pick up on it?

I loved the point where there was sudden colour after a great long time of browns and greys: what a glorious pleasure! At one point I thought I was looking at a landscape, perhaps the brow of a hill, but the "camera" pulled back and it was a man's face, under the brim of a hat.

Can't wait to revisit this one. One of the friends I feel compelled to share this with left his orchard in the spring and moved to the city, and has since adopted my yard and gardens as his own. I think the film will make him sad over what he has left behind, but I think I'll show it to him anyhow. I also need to get myself a copy of RIVERS & TIDES and share that with him as well. Anybody else sense an affinity?

It strikes me there's a real appropriateness of fit between the medium and the subject, here. That sort of hand animation takes the same sort of meticulous attention to detail and extreme perseverence, the same quiet "long obedience in the same direction," as the man's tree planting. I can see in the film something of a manifesto of the film maker himself.


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I don't have the film at hand, but after this discussion I dug out my paperback copy of the book. I learned a few things, and can comment briefly on some of Ron's points. (I actually have two copies, one a conservationist tract from 1981, and the other a 1985 version with stunning woodcut art and an interesting afterword by Giono scholar Professor Norma Goodrich.)

The film's narration differs quite a bit from the book, as I noticed when I watched the first part of the film here. The book begins (second paragraph) with:

About forty years ago I was taking a long trip on foot over mountain heights quite unknown to tourists, in that ancient region where the Alps thrust down into Provence. All this, at the time I embarked upon my long walk through these deserted regions, was barren and colorless land. Nothing grew there but wild lavender.

Christopher Plummer reads:

Many years ago I set out on a walking tour high in the Alps, a region quite unknown to travelers, where ancient mountains thrust down into Provence. The trip began on barren moors, 12 or 13-hundred metres above sea level, through land that was bleak and monotonous. Nothing grew there but wild lavender.

My point is that the film doesn't precisely follow the book, and my comments on Giono's prose may leave open to discussion the film's perspective on the Divine. Also note that one of my copies makes reference to being a translation from the French original, so perhaps the film script was freshly translated to some degree, and not merely re-written.

There's a line in the film about the man finding a particular quality of happiness in his single-minded, unhurried task.
Edited by Tim Willson

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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I'll be curious to see again if the film differs on this point, but the book is quite pointedly referencing God as well as man's place in God's world.

Absolutely. The film constantly references God. But I guess my point is that its take on the nature of God, and His workings in creation, are somewhat ambivalent. That it's possible to read the film as putting forward human creativity as a rival to God's. But even that reading needs to take into account a balancing perception that "creation" / "Providence" can be bounteous and, well, Divine.

There is a line about God and destruction, but it in fact points to MAN'S destructive proclivities -- remember the narrator is a WWI infantryman:

"When you remembered that all this had sprung from the hands and the soul of this one man, without technical resources, you understand that men could be as effectual as God in realms other than that of destruction."

In the film's translation of that line it seemed to imply that, yes, man could match God in being creative, just as man (with all his wars) could match God's destructiveness. A subtle distinction, but it struck me as having a certain frisson.

Other references to God include:

  ...(Bouffier) still expected to lose about half to rodents or to the unpredictable designs of Providence.

Which contains the idea that Providence is a source of destruction.

  ...(Bouffier) answered that if God granted him life, in thirty years he would have planted so many more that these 10,000 would be like a drop of water in the ocean.

Which casts God as the taker-away of life, the primary force that can thwart Bouffier's project.

  (Bouffier) was one of God's athletes.

No shadow there: solidly puts Bouffier and God "on the same team," if you'll pardon the expression. As is the linden line you cite, which I don't think is represented in the film - though the imagery is constantly about resurrection.

the war just finished had not allowed the full blooming of life, but Lazarus was out of the tomb.

To over-state my case, "Bouffier's human efforts could resurrect what God's neglect had killed."

  ...(Bouffier completed) a work worthy of God.

"Ye shall be as gods...."

Giono also uses words like creation, transformation, virtue, hope and "land of Canaan".

But the film/story may be ironizing them, or appropriating them in a parable that subtly asserts man's ascendancy over God. Especially interesting in the context of a re-Creation myth: does THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES echo Genesis not only in its "behold it is good" affirmation of making a garden where once was a desolate and empty void, but also (perhaps unknowingly) in echoing the theme of man's tendency to see himself as God's equal?

I'm not trying to argue that the film is nothing but a humanist tract, bent on discrediting God. I mean only to point out a tension I see within the film's vision of creativity. It seems conflicted, or at least to embody in a poetic way a real tension between two perceptions of the artist's place in the world: one side of the dialectic honours the creativity of the individual human over against God's / Providence's surprising capacity for neglect and destruction, the other side sees man and God potentially working together as partners to bring bounty and resurrection, while acknowledging that God sometimes decrees death and waste, and Man sometimes unleashes the destructive power of war (and other times seems prone to making a fool of himself with petty political bluster).

All that having been said, the shadings noted, the darker side of the dialectic over-asserted, the film's predominant effect on me is to celebrate God's bounty, and the extraordinary privilege it is to labour with God in the ongoing work of creation and re-creation. By the end of the film, both times I've watched it, my heart is pounding and my eyes sting with tears.

It strikes me there's a real appropriateness of fit between the medium and the subject, here.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Ron,

I'm starting to get what you're driving at -- and a lovely bit of writing you supplied, that. But this may be the first time I've disagreed with such an elegantly written post. 'Tis strange indeed. tongue.gif

I had never seen the tension between man and God before, and I agree that it may be there, but I don't think quite to the same degree. For example, you write that Bouffier's reference to what he hopes to accomplish if God grants him another 30 years:

Which casts God as the taker-away of life, the primary force that can thwart Bouffier's project.

I don't think so; quite the opposite, actually -- it casts God as the GIVER of life.

In another place you wrote:

To over-state my case, "Bouffier's human efforts could resurrect what God's neglect had killed."

But, again, I think Giono lays no blame at the feet of God. There is an early reference to the four or five scattered villages, "inhabited by charcoal-burners." Later, charcoal burning was prohibited by the state as a way to protect the forest; also, the narrator's friend, a forestry official, "so terrorized (his three rangers) that they remained proof against all the bottles of wine the charcoal-burners could offer."

Also, near the end, Giono writes:

"The only serious danger to the work occurred during the War of 1939. As cars were being run on gazogenes (wood-burning generators), there was never enough wood. Cutting was started among the oaks of 1910, but... it was abandoned."

So, Bouffier isn't making up for God's deficiency; rather, early on we learn that it is Bouffier's opinion that the land is dying for want of trees -- clearly, the result of man.

There are two other lovely passages that pay deep homage to God, one of them rather subtle.

The first is the quote already referenced: "a work worthy of God." Giono digs deep for words to praise the exceptional accomplishment of Bouffier -- and ends with comparing him to God. Clearly, God's handiwork is admirable.

And the opening paragraph, although it references "a human character", it's a lovely hymn of praise if we reflect on how God embodies these characteristics:

"For a human character to reveal truly exceptional qualities, one must have the good fortune to observe its performance over many years. If this performance is devoid of all egoism, if its guiding motive is unparalleled generosity, if it is absolutely certain that there is no thought of recompense and that, in addition, it has left its visible mark upon the earth, then there can be no mistake."

Edited by Tim Willson

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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Good stuff, Tim.

I wonder if the shadings I picked up watching the film are inherent in the film: in the nuances of translation (which differ from the translation you're working with), in the details chosen for inclusion and those that are not included.

Could also be that you're just a glass-half-full kinda guy, and I'm just a confused bugger who can't stop thinking that half the glass is full AND half empty. And sometimes I'm not even sure whether it's better for it to be full or empty. I mean, what if you need the glass to hold pencils: wouldn't the water be a bad thing? Assuming it is water: what if that's hydrocloric acid in there, or the water is tainted with bubonic plague or something?....


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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P.S. Morefield, you started this thing, you decide. Who's right: me or him? 'Cause it can't be both of us, I know that much.

Get off that fence and DECIDE!!!! Now. Tonight your soul may be required of you.


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Ron, you know I have often found your art commentary enlightening, but in this case, you're simply whacked. It's hard for me to even picture a more reverent film.

As an aside, Back himself has been planting trees in his retirement and has helped reforest huge swaths of land. When the audience cheered him at the honory event in Los Angeles, he grinned sheepishly and pointed upwards. Take it as you will.

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Okay, Morefield, now I really need you. They're ganging up on me. Even the film-maker himself seems to be mistaken in this case. Helllllllllp!!!


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Could also be that you're just a glass-half-full kinda guy, and I'm just a confused bugger who can't stop thinking that half the glass is full AND half empty.  And sometimes I'm not even sure whether it's better for it to be full or empty.  I mean, what if you need the glass to hold pencils: wouldn't the water be a bad thing?  Assuming it is water: what if that's hydrocloric acid in there, or the water is tainted with bubonic plague or something?....

Best laugh all week! Especially funny, since I find myself disagreeing (mildly) with you -- Ron Reed, one of the seven reigning kings of insight in the kingdom of A&F!

Ken... nice comments on serving as God's instruments, contrasted with the common paradigm of receiving instructions from God, setting forth and doing.

(and what's this about a hiatus? suddenly the glass looks half empty... Or maybe someone just filled it with pencils.)


"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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If indeed you are abandoning us for a while, this is a wonderful last hurrah. Thanks, Ken. (As for the "taking sides," I'm sure you knew I was only being goofy. I love hearing the huge variety of response to films that happens around here, but I have always been massively averse to the arguments that can lock in, positions taken and defended no matter what. In some cultures, they're very comfortable with that kind of pitched battle: not me. It's never driven me away from the boards, though: I don't take it to heart, just note that this or that argument-prone person "is at it again," and ignore the contentious posts or leave the thread. But you're welcome to your hiatus! See you back here later....)

I like your comments, and must admit a certain relief that I'm not the only one who can at least see the possibility of the less devout reading - I may be wacked, but I'm not crazy! But I need to watch the film again before I can really get a perspective on how fringey my "against the grain" reading actually is. And I loaned it to a buddy, so that won't be for a while.

*

Glad you got a kick out of the water glass riff, Tim! Immediate picture that sprung to my mind's eye: Tim drinking from the mythical Glass, caught in a guffaw mid-swallow, snorting water through his nose. Now we know why that glass is half full...


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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...and must admit a certain relief that I'm not the only one who can at least see the possibility of the less devout reading - I may be wacked, but I'm not crazy!
I would say virtually any spiritually significant work of art should offer the possibility of a less devout reading; this is precisely what entices and engages the viewer and allows him or her to "discover" and own such readings. Anything that is too rigid or prescriptive becomes "religious art," not "spiritual art," for the already converted.

(And since Alan identified me as whacked months ago, I hope you recognized my use of the term as fond jesting. smile.gif )

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(And since Alan identified me as whacked months ago, I hope you recognized my use of the term as fond jesting. smile.gif )

Oh yes, "whacked" elicits no offense on my part. Hey, some of my best friends are whacked!

wink.gif

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I've just encountered a new version of Giono's story -- published by the artful souls over at Heron Dance. Does this look gorgeous, or what?

6101.jpg

It contains delightful watercolor images like this one...

LE5404-MWPT.jpg

The full text of Giono's story is here, btw.


"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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2 hours ago, Andrew said:

Nothing profound to add, except another thank you to whomever nominated this.  A gem of a film, beautifully animated.  I only wish it were a true story.

That was me. As Andrew J. says in his own thread about Paddington 2, I hope there is room on our list for some works that are aspirational -- that appeal to the best in us rather than only reflecting a mirror to the the very many dark parts of life. The film inspires me and gives me hope. 

It reminds me of this quote from Eberhard Arnold that I have in my commonplace book:

 

Quote

If we want to fight acquisitiveness and the deceit and injustice of social distinctions, we must fight them in a practical way by demonstrating that a different way of life is not only feasible, but actually exists.

 

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3 hours ago, Andrew said:

Nothing profound to add, except another thank you to whomever nominated this.  A gem of a film, beautifully animated.  I only wish it were a true story.

 

1 hour ago, kenmorefield said:

That was me. As Andrew J. says in his own thread about Paddington 2, I hope there is room on our list for some works that are aspirational -- that appeal to the best in us rather than only reflecting a mirror to the the very many dark parts of life. The film inspires me and gives me hope. 

It reminds me of this quote from Eberhard Arnold that I have in my commonplace book:

 

Quote

If we want to fight acquisitiveness and the deceit and injustice of social distinctions, we must fight them in a practical way by demonstrating that a different way of life is not only feasible, but actually exists.

 

I also nominated this one. It's been a go-to for me ever since I saw it in a college Environmental Ethics class. (We were discussing the ideologies around environmental action taken by individuals, communities/grassroots, and societies/systems/governments. The film is obviously about an individuals action, but it also is about social renewal at the margins of society and I think has a strong if subtle critique of destructive systems.) 

I also wrote the blurb for this one when it landed on the Top 25 list about Growing Older.

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