Director Christian Carion grew up on a chicory farm in France, so I believe many of the characteristics of the farm in “The Girl From Paris (2001)” are authentic. The French language movie is set mostly on a goat farm high in the mountains in Vercors, south of Grenoble. When 30-year-old Paris computer teacher Sandrine Dumez (Mathilde Seigner) decides to study agriculture, she buys a remote and picturesque farm run by old man named Adrien (Michel Serrault). The deal allows Adrien to continue living in the farm house for a year and a half. However, he’s not very friendly or helpful to Sandrine, who learns that running a farm by herself involves a tremendous amount of uncomfortable work in difficult conditions.
Whatever motivates Sandrine to take on such a challenge remains unanswered in the film, which instead concentrates on the relationship between her and Adrien. The old farmer Adrien knows everything about running a farm, but only offers Sandrine contempt and scorn. When we first meet him repairing farm equipment in his barn, he instantly scoffs at Sandrine and must be coaxed by a local agriculture official to sell the farm to her. When she converts one of the farm buildings into a hotel and begins selling tours of the scenic farm, Adrien becomes even more surly and uncooperative.
Adrien’s problem with Sandrine could come down to his old-school ideas about tradition and land use, but it seems like the easy-going Sandrine would be willing at any time to listen to his advice. That never happens because Adrien quietly seethes in his house for most of the movie. We only learn more about Adrien when his friend, a retired local farmer played by Jean-Paul Roussillon, shows up at the farm from time to time to hear how things are going. Luckily, Adrien eventually warms up to the sweet-natured Sandrine, but not before he causes her considerable discomfort. He only acts nice to her after health problems force him to reassess his life.
Most of Sandrine’s work on the farm involves herding goats. The real problems begin when winter arrives. Snow and biting cold makes everything more difficult, including helping a pregnant goat deliver her kids. Late in the film, Adrien hopes his farm dispelled a city girl’s myth about farm life, telling her about the hardships and drudgery. But by then, she has more than proven herself capable of both the work and the loneliness of life on a farm.
The French title for the movie, “Une hirondelle a fait le printemps,” means “a swallow made a spring.” None of the characters say or allude to this line, so it must refer to Sandrine’s arrival in the remote and wintery world of this story. A more conventional proverb goes like this: (The appearance of) One swallow does not make a spring. That’s another way of saying one shouldn’t get too excited by a single success.