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Give the benefit of the doubt to the distributors who renamed the
highly idiomatic Une Hirondelle a Fait le Printemps, calling it, for the
English-speaking markets, The Girl from Paris. She is decidedly not a
girl, but a fully adult, thirty-year-old woman. The sexist (and surely, in this day and
age, condescending) use of "girl," please assume, is that of the other principal
character, Adrien (Michel Serrault), a crusty old farmer in the Rhone Alps whose
conservative attitudes remain anchored somewhere in the nineteenth century.
As her mother points out, Sandrine (Mathilde Seigner) has a successful career as an instructor in internet training, makes good money, gets to travel. But one night, when she is stuck in gridlocked Paris traffic (a recurrent theme in French films - see Friday Night, Weekend), she realizes she is suffocating in the city and she decides to pursue her long-time fantasy of becoming a farmer. Off she goes to an agricultural course, with plans to buy a farm.
Director Christian Carion, in his debut film, shows something of Adrien's life on his remote farm. Adrien lives alone, a widower, with occasional visits from his supportive and droll friend Jean (Jean-Paul Roussillon). A hog is hoisted and slaughtered, goats must be fed and milked. When Sandrine's teacher brings her to see Adrien's farm, which he has put on the market, he expresses disdain for her agriculture degree and also says that if she buys, he must stay in residence for another eighteen months, until his nephew in Grenoble is ready to take him in.
The setup is complete. Will Sandrine be able to make a success of the farm? Will she be able to abide the isolation of the countryside, without a man of her own? (There's a wonderful recurring image of a hang-glider flying in the hills around the farm, a primal wish-fulfillment fantasy for Sandrine.) Will the defensive, dour old man loosen up? What might they both learn along the way?
Anchored by an intelligent and incident-rich script by Carion and Eric Assous, The Girl from Paris builds character, making both leads believable, three-dimensional and sympathetic. Seigner (Dry Cleaning, Venus Beauty Institute, With a Friend Like Harry) portrays Sandrine's determination without it seeming obstinate; she's strong and knows what she wants, but there's an underlying vulnerability as well. When an old boyfriend drops in on her at the farm, she has taken on a healthy glow, indicative of her outdoor work and her inner contentment. He tells her she is beautiful--and indeed she is.
Michel Serrault, a veteran of 100 films (The Swindle, La Cage Aux Folles) finds the right balance of gruff stubbornness, experienced wisdom, and lonely neediness. Both Adrien and Sandrine are changed by their shared experiences and the changes are rendered fully credible by the thoughtful screenplay as interpreted in subtle and expert performances. - Arthur Lazere