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A&E Home Video presents
A Year in Provence (1993)

"You see? I'm even getting the hang of the language."
- David Mayles (John Shaw)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: October 03, 2001

Stars: John Thaw, Lindsay Duncan
Other Stars: Marcel Champel, Jean Pierre Delacin, Annie Sinigalia, Jo Doumerg, Christian Luciani, Johan Rougel, Jean-Marie Juan, Annie Marquez, Jean Maurel, Francine Olivier, Alfred Molina, Louis Lyonnet, Antoinette Moya, Catherine Babbett
Director: David Tucker

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief photographic nudity)
Run Time: 05h:52m:38s
Release Date: September 25, 2001
UPC: 733961702651
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+B-B+ D

DVD Review

Most of us dream of leaving our day-to-day lives to find an oasis in some exotic locale, where we can leave behind the frantic pace of city living. Many times thoughts will turn to locations discovered on holiday, where pastoral settings give us a sense of an idyllic life waiting for our arrival. Of course, life anywhere is not without its share of hardships or challenges, as recounted in the monthly chronicles of one such escape from the rat race: having spent three years on the New York Times bestseller list, Peter Mayle's accounts of A Year in Provence and its sequels introduced millions to the customs, food and people in the south of France. While the real life Peter and his wife Jenny moved from Manhattan, the story of their first year in the country is a hilarious discovery of a new lifestyle that even the French find peculiar.

Winter

"Welcome to the south of France, normallÈment, normallÈment. Well the south is beginning to get up my nose." - Annie Mayle (Lindsay Duncan)

Peter Mayle (John Thaw) and his wife Annie (Lindsay Duncan) give up their careers in England—he as an advertising executive, she as a tax inspector—and set off for a new life in Provence, in southeast France. They fall in love with the region and buy a 200-year-old stone farmhouse, complete with vineyard, where Peter wants to take up writing a novel. As is the case with every new home, there are certain improvements that are required before one can be settled in; however, running water is pretty much a necessity for civilized folks, especially when inclimate weather comes and house guests are expected. There is also the necessity to unravel the local language and customs, and these barriers can lead to unexpected results. One must also be accepting of the neighbor's generosity, despite what gifts one may receive as a result. As the Mayles cope with these and the local labor situation, they also must deal with the local Parisien, whose neighbor's "ass has a very big cock." However, as winter comes to a close, some of the mysteries of their new home have been unearthed and are out in the open, and the south of France now truly feels like home.

Spring

"If you're looking for a real bargain, they tell me Bulgaria's the place." - Peter Mayle (John Shaw)

With the change of seasons comes an uninvited house guest, though French hospitality means putting up with the newly arrived Tony (Alfred Molina), a friend of a friend of a friend, at least for a while. As Tony looks for a house of his own in the area, with Peter as interpreter, the patience of his hosts wears thin. As work on the farm begins for the year, more mysteries arise when the Mayles' mailbox goes missing, which requires calling in the gendarme, though it will take some clever detective work to figure out where and how household items have disappeared. There's no loafing around when it comes to the local cuisine, as Peter and Annie are assigned to write up what Provence has to offer in the way of dining, which leads to another mystery of gastronomic proportions.

Summer

"We should never have told people about France." Peter Mayle

With summer comes visitors, though mixups as to who is scheduled to arrive can cause havoc, especially when renovations are still underway. With the temperature soaring, it is only fitting that the central heating be installed. Old grudges come to a head as Peter takes the boules by the horn, but has he got the balls to overthrow the town champion? As summer comes to a close it is time to reap the harvest as the vineyard offers up its bounty. David makes it his business to discover the secrets of the local vintnery.

Fall

"''ow can yoo leeve vis all dis cows an' dis veg? I will show them." - Madame Hermonville (Annie Sinigalia)

There is nothing like being neighborly, but sometimes it's best to keep one's nose out of others' business. However, the temptation is too much to resist and the Mayles find themselves in the thick of a dispute. Before the affair is ended someone may be needing to eat a little crow. Annie and Peter put their English to good use, by acting as teachers at the local school, but when bad news comes to the small community, it will require the locals to do more than just digging into their pocketbooks to save a local institution. Finally, as the year comes to a close the politics of Christmas leave the Mayles in the middle, with Annie working overtime to get her house in order for the annual festivities.

Interestingly, the only other film I can compare this miniseries to is one of my all time favorites, Jean de Florette, which shares the setting, shot on location in Provence. Both contain a collection of distinct and quirky personalities, absurd intricacies and impeccable performances. While Jean de Florette had many somber moments, A Year In Provence is much lighter fare; I can't recall another recent miniseries I had as much fun experiencing as I did this one, and its six-hour running time flew by. The story is wonderful, full of rich characters and an unforgettable atmosphere, which permeates throughout the series, as does the abundant humor imposed by a uniquely ProvenÁial way of life. The decision to leave the French language unsubtitled works brilliantly, as we feel the same alienation the Mayles do from their limited understanding of the language. John Thaw (Chaplin) and Lindsay Duncan (Mansfield Park) excel as the relocated English, befuddled and frustrated by the French and the way they operate. The collection of auxiliary French cast members are simply perfect: Marcel Champel as the peasant neighbor Antoine RiviÈre, Jean Pierre Delacin as the elusive work boss, Columbani, and Annie Sinigalia's embodiment of Parisienne Eveline Hermonville, with her broken English, are all hilarious. David Tucker's direction ties the threads that run throughout the series together flawlessly. I highly recommend spending A Year in Provence.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Presented in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the image tends to be somewhat on the soft side. The source material exhibits a few rolling video dropouts here and there. Colors aren't exactly vibrant, though the saturation level picks up as spring arrives, and greens in particular take on a more vivid presentation, though they fall off again for the final two episodes. Black levels never seem to hit true black, which leaves the somewhat noisy dark areas open to a lot of visible compression issues. This doesn't really do justice to the stunning settings, although sounds worse described here than in actuality.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English/Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The English/French stereo track is suitable, though is a bit heavy on sibilance in places. I didn't find it detracting from my enjoyment, or calling attention to itself. Any concerns seem to be a source issue, as there is no distortion or other anomalies I can attribute to the transfer. As this is primarily dialogue driven, there is little use of sound effects, and the score is used in moderation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues
Packaging: Amaray
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Peter Mayle biography/bibliography
Extras Review: A brief Peter Mayle biography is included along with a bibliography of his printed work is included on disc one. The menus feature simple excerpts from the four parts set to the show's theme.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Despite some shortcomings in the transfer, and lack of appreciable extras, I revelled in every minute spent in A Year in Provence. NormallÈment, this would be detrimental to a recommendation, but this is a case where the substance of the film outweighs the necessity for peripheral enhancements to leave the viewer satiated and satisfied with an exquisite tale, charming characters, and a beautiful production. I look forward to returning to the LubÈron Valley, filling my cup with the local wines, and dining on exotic French cuisine with these new found friends and neighbors. Highly recommended.

 


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