My Mother's Castle (1990) Script



In those days, I was still a young boy, but I had found the love of my life: the hills of Provence.

A wonderful summer that had gone like a dream.



But the holidays were over.

I knew I would not be able to wait a whole year to see my beloved hills once more.

I had to find a way.

I was prepared to do anything.



Mommy… Every day the story of Augustine and her three men recommenced.

Joseph, my father, picked up where he'd left off, as if the happiness of the holidays didn't matter.

He went to school with us. We went to school with him.

Hello, sir!

How were the holidays?

Of all the daddies, my father was the only one allowed to go into school.

"The autumn", comma, "with its gusts of wind", comma, "its long sighs…"

Instead of the dictation, I heard the cicadas' humming chorus.

"… its sodden paths…"

I saw the fig trees, the olive trees… I wasn't in class, I was roaming my hills.




Come in!

It's him.

It's you.

It's you. It's me?

Well done! Congratulations!

Quite remarkable. Quite, quite remarkable.

It wasn't a punishment, but a far worse fate.

I had been chosen to defend the colors of the primary school in the dreaded scholarship exam.

As the champion of our school, I was given intensive drilling.

I didn't have a moment of respite.

Dunkirk, Valenciennes… Good. Pas-de-Calais?

County town: Arras. Sub-prefectures: Béthune…

"We spent our…

"vacation there.

"Our vacation was spent there.

"Our vacation…

"was spent there."

Marcel, are you all right?

Come on, Augustine!

Only lack of instruction is harmful!

Does your head ache?

My sweet Augustine treated me like a convalescent and made me delicious dishes, which were unfortunately preceded by a large spoonful of cod liver oil.

But when Thursday came around… Marcel, it's Thursday! What?

That's right, even on a Thursday, which was our day off.

I had a fit of rebellion, and poor old Paul suffered.


It's Paul!

Even Daddy doesn't go on Thursdays.

The masters took turns as if they were police officers questioning a suspect.

One Thursday morning, I made a detour.

My father had told me many times.

I knew that God did not exist.

But I wasn't absolutely sure.

Sailors experience the call of the sea.

I had felt the call of the hills.

My beloved hills were calling me.

Garlaban, Taoumé, Tête Rouge, I salute you!

Daddy! Yes?

I need to talk to you. So do I.

But this is really important.

The city air is no good for Mommy.

How do you know? You said so.

She needs good air. It's a manner of speaking.

So? So I have an idea.

It'd be better if we lived in the hills.

What about school? It isn't a problem.

We'll go to Marseilles every day.

Who's we? Me and you.

On foot? Of course not. By bike.

What bike? Uncle Jules will lend you his.

One made for two?

I'll ride on the handlebars.

What about at night? I'll hold a lantern.

Come on! You can see that your idea is full of flaws.

Daddy… You were happy too, this summer in the hills.

Of course I was.

Why don't you want to go back then?

I was very happy in the hills, but you know, we were all very happy in the hills.

Weren't we, Augustine?

And that's why we're all going at Christmas!

At Christmas?

We're spending the holiday there. Didn't Daddy tell you?

Marcel didn't let me get a word in.

The holiday is Mommy's idea, children.

She pestered me so much, I was forced to give in.


Thank you, Mommy.

My mother, all in fur, rabbit fur, naturally, resembled the beautiful Canadian ice-skaters who graced the Post Office calendar.

Will we go even if it rains?

We'll make ourselves skinny, we'll slip between the raindrops.

Perhaps it will snow!

Like at the North Pole. Yes.

Perhaps there'll be bears too… Well… Colander, funnel… Yes.

Frying pan, coffee grinder. Yes.

Cheese grater. No.

What do you mean, no? Cheese grater! Broom… Mommy, I need to pee!

Here's the cheese grater.

Marcel! Yes, Mommy!

Come on, then! Let's go, fellow travelers!

Remember, Augustine.

These are all the castles which we can't cross.

So we have to go around this way.

How many kilometers do we have to walk?


It's a long way. But anyway… We'll have the holidays to rest. Forward march!

Mommy, give me your bag.

Mommy! I need to pee.

Again? Hurry up!

Under the winter sun, as pale and shorn as a monk, we returned to our holiday home.

December, a nocturnal roadmender, had burned the wild grasses and cleared the weeds.

No cicadas or grasshoppers.

Not a sound, not a movement.

I thought of Lili, Lili des Bellons.

This little peasant was my chum, he'd taught me about the hills.

Maybe he would come to meet me.



Hey, pal!

Were you waiting for me? Oh, no!

I came to see Edmond of the Butterflies.

I was waiting for him to come home.

I see. Good evening, folks.

I was happy, because I knew he had lied to me.

He had come to wait for me in the cold Christmas rain whose shiny drops were clinging to his long lashes.

He'd been there for hours, my little brother of the hills.

Ah, schoolmaster! You're always on holiday!

That's an exaggeration! I never take any myself.

Mind you, I don't work either, so… Give me your bag.

We've come from Marseilles. We couldn't see a thing!

Fire is a type of combustion.

The oxygen in the air aids this combustion.

What about carbon dioxide, Daddy?

That night, that Christmas Eve, I felt an entirely new emotion.

The flames flickered, and I saw in the light smoke, a blue gold-crested bird.

I don't understand.

It means: "Next year, "If we are not more numerous, may we not be less."

That's so pretty.

It brings happiness to a home, so it's good that it's yours.

Don't you celebrate Christmas?

No. My dad says it's a day like any other.

He doesn't go to Midnight Mass? No. Specially not this year.

Because it's been too dry. He won't go till it rains.

Because we have to make the Good Lord understand.

Merry Christmas!

Mommy! Golly!

Your sister's sleeping!

I've already heard about the thirteen desserts, but it's the first time I've seen them.

It won't just be a feast for the eyes!

Not so fast, you greedy things.

Before eating them, you'll have to name them.

This isn't the time! You must never… Pass up an opportunity to learn.

First, the four beggars.

Figs, almonds, hazelnuts, raisins.

Then apples, pears, prunes, walnuts.

That makes eight.

Mandarins, watermelon, white nougat, dark nougat!

There's one missing.

Yes. The oil pump, the fougasse.

Well done! Well done, Mommy!

Merry Christmas! Uncle Jules!

Uncle Jules!

We're delighted to see you, but we weren't expecting you.

Have you deserted Rose and the baby?

My dear Joseph, ever since I was a child, I have never missed Midnight Mass.

So I hopped on my bicycle, and decided to hear it here, at La Treille Church.

And then come up and celebrate the Savior's birth with you.

The mass was very beautiful. There was a huge crib.

The church was decked out with rosemary, and the children sang wonderful 14th-century carols.

Too bad you missed it! I'd have come just to see.

I believe people who go to church for the show and the music don't respect other folks' faith.

A fine sentiment.

Come see, pals!

Quick, quick!

Quick, Marcel, look!

Thank you, Uncle Jules!

Even if you didn't attend mass, Joseph, you were there.

And how's that?

You were there with your whole family because I said a long prayer for you.

What did you ask the Almighty for?

The most beautiful thing of all.

I begged Him to no longer deprive you of His presence and to give you faith.

As you know, I don't believe the creator of the universe bothers to take care of the germs that we are.

But your prayer, my dear Jules, is a wonderful token of the friendship you feel for us.

And I thank you for it.

Happy Christmas, my dear Joseph.



Daddy, when will we come back?

Next holidays. When?

Well, at Easter.

How many days is that, Daddy? It's… Oh, you're annoying me!

It'll be an excellent exercise for your scholarship exam.

Calculate the number of days till Easter, as well as the minutes and the seconds.

My love of the hills triumphed over the barbarity of mathematics.

103 days, 148,320 minutes and 8,899,200 seconds later, we were back at the Enchanted Bastide.

Uncle Jules lived up to the tradition.

Happy Easter, my dear Joseph.

Happy Easter, my dear Jules.

And this is for you greedy boys.

It's beautiful!

Here's to the fine days of beautiful birds and love stories!

Stop, tiddler! Where are you off to?

The hillside. What about your geography?

I promised I'd check the snares.

Your pal Lili can do it by himself.

No. He has hairs on his legs.

Hairs on his legs? So what?

His father said he's a man, so he has to work.

I'm telling you to work too.

Mommy asked me to pick some thyme.

Don't forget your exam is in 3 months' time.

And my jugged hare is in 3 hours!

Ah, jugged hare! Well, in that case…

I knew little of the mores of the weaker sex.

I only frequented my mother and my aunt: not women, but a mother and an aunt.

Which way is it to Les Bellons? Are you lost?

Yes. But that's no reason not to address me as Miss.

I'm not a peasant.

I found this strange creature rather stuck-up.

I concluded that she was rich.

Which way do I have to go?

The path on the right.

There are huge cobwebs across it!

Go round them, Miss.

And walk through the tall grass?

I saw a horrid animal go by. It was long and green.

It must have been a lizard. But because she was annoying… It must have been a snake.

This is the valley of the snakes. They eat rats.

Plenty of rats, plenty of snakes.

Good Lord!

A gallant boy would never abandon a damsel in distress.

You may drop the "Miss" if you kill the spiders for me.

I don't need to drop the "Miss" for that. Let's go.


Come on.

There's the path. You'll see Les Bellons.

I'm scared I'll get lost again. You may accompany me.

I thought of the thyme, my homework, the snares… Another day perhaps. I can't today.

Thanks anyway!

Staying there, Miss? Yes.

I shall wait for a passer-by. There are never any round here.

Too bad. When I don't come home, Mother shall fetch the gendarmes, but it will be too late.

Too late?

Because I shall be dead, my throat slit, in a pool of blood.

But… They print such stories in the newspapers.

My father works on a newspaper: Le Petit Marseillais.

Come on, then.

My uncle reads it every day, for the politics.

Father doesn't write articles. He's far too important.

Is he the editor? More than that.

He corrects all the others' articles.

It's true. And he writes poems that are published in Paris.

Poems with rhymes, like Victor Hugo?

Absolutely. What's your father's name?

Lois de Montmajour. What?

Lois de Montmajour.

The name wasn't in my book.

I didn't dare say so. I felt respect for her noble status.

That's why I mustn't be too familiar.

What does your father do? He's a teacher.

Of what? Of everything.

At Les Chartreux School. A public school… He's a schoolmaster then.

That's very good, but not as good as a teacher.

Does your father hunt, Miss? Oh, what's that?

Thyme. Smell…

Oh, how awful! What?

Your hands look like a beggar's hands!

It's only earth, Miss.

I permitted you to be more familiar. Why don't you do so?

You must never be familiar with the nobility.

I believe I scare you. Me? Not at all.

I don't intimidate you, my beauty does.

My name is Isabelle.

You shall never forget it.

And you? I'm Marcel.

Not bad. Not as pretty as Isabelle though.

But that's not your fault.


Oh, Babette! There you are at last.

From one flower to the next, I got lost.

I was beginning to wonder whether the wolf hadn't eaten you.

Don't tease me, Mama.

I was even surrounded by hissing snakes.

Luckily, a young boy saved me and walked me home.

His hands are dirty, but he's ever so brave.

Indeed, his hands are dirty. Very dirty even.

I was picking thyme for my mother.

I would invite this boy to play with you, if I was certain he wouldn't swear.

Swear? I know how to, but I never do.

I knew it. That isn't how you're supposed to do it.

How then?

You mustn't raise my hand. You have to nod as if you were greeting me. Try again.

Not bad.

I'll teach you… this afternoon.

At last!

You took your time. I waited for you for my jugged hare!

I found a girl on a rock.


No. She was lost.

A dangerous encounter indeed!

How old is she?

She's as big as me.

Where does she live?

In the long house at Les Bellons. Her mother is superb.

You don't say!

And the girl?

She's very pretty. She has rounded calves.

You noticed?

Do you like her?

Sort of.

She says "vous" to her mother. It isn't her mother.

It is too! She calls her "Mama"!

And her father? He writes superb poems.

And he's a nobleman. His name is Lois de Montmajour.

Lois de Montmajour! That has to be a nom de guerre.

These poets live in a dream world and end up starving.

Not all of them!

Lucienne's husband, who writes songs for the Alcazar, gets plenty of money. They're a bit saucy.

But they rhyme though!

You have a strange idea of poetry!

Daisy, Daisy You'll be the bell Which I'll ring you know! Sweet little Daisy Bell!

You'll take the lead In each trip we take If I don't do well Then you can use the brake…

Well, I never!

They could laugh.

I wasn't listening any more, but thinking of wonderful Isabelle who had given me her hand to kiss and was waiting for me.

Do you like it?

Yes! But the best thing is, you play with both hands at the same time, and with all your fingers.

Next year, I'm taking the Conservatoire exam.

Do you like music?

I don't know.

Kneel down.

Where? At my feet.

At your feet, Miss?

Go on.

Now stick your ear to the piano.

As I watched her tiny hands making all this music, I realized this fairy held the key to my secret castles.

Princess! Ah! That's my father.

Greetings, Princess!

Papa, may I introduce you to the boy…

"'Tis the knight who tracked the viper

"And in one fell stroke cleaved in two the spider!"

It was a grass snake.

"Pages, from my castle sound the oliphant

"In memory of the hero who saved my infant!"

Oh, Lois! Lois!

"For this poet, without further ado, "Prepare the green-eyed absinthe, please, please do"

Oh, Lois! Lois!

If you knew how my muse amuses.


For days, I have tried to replace a hideous word.

Like a dark stain upon a silver sword.

Like a thorn on a rose bush.

And yet, the word is not far, it is here… It is flying around my lyre.

The poet is composing.

The visit is over!

"O look, Infante! See how this pair

"Illuminates the bushes with absinthe's verdant glare"

Hey, pal! Lili!

And the snares? Something happened… I know. Paul told me. What did he tell you?

That you went to play with an idiot who's scared of spiders.

An idiot? You should hear her play the piano!

Turning a handle isn't hard!

I often do it!

What handle? It's a real piano. She plays with her hands!

Meanwhile, the fox and the ants have been having a feast!

It isn't too late.

Not too late? Ants get straight down to business!

So long!

It was Easter Sunday.

I wanted to surprise Isabelle by saying hello after Mass.

In any case, her dad's a drunk.

Who is? You know who I mean.

Who told you he was a drunk?

My dad.

He saw the gentleman crawling on all fours down the road.

Your dad's a liar!

I don't like being called a liar, especially by a boy from Marseilles!

If he was crawling on all fours, it's because he was ill.

That's true! Anyone can fall ill.

Not likely! He'd thrown up all his Pernod.

Funny kind of illness, that is!

When you talk of the devil… Looks like he supped all the Communion wine!

I swear obedience and loyalty to my queen.

And for her, I am prepared to die.

"And for her, I am prepared…"

To die! "To die."

Very good. Arise!

What is this game?

I'm the queen. You are my knight.

And? You must do everything I say.



The queen wanted to test my strength and my courage.

She said if I stroked this monster… I shall name you captain of the guards.

I approached the beast, counting on the magnetic power of man's eyes as well as on the strength of the chain.

He was a loving loner, a brute mad about love.

He'd have followed me to the ends of the earth.

Knight, I am pleased with you.

After testing my courage, she put my masculinity to the test.

That afternoon, I played many roles: the faithful black slave, the train bearer, the fan waver… Open your mouth, close your eyes.

And I ended up as a ferocious dog, drooling at the mouth.

Heel, Brutus!

Be a good boy!

Drop! Drop!

Go on! Down!

Close your eyes!

Open your mouth.

Then she made him run on all fours!

And bark!

What an odd game. It makes no sense!

No girl has ever made me run on all fours.

Me neither!

We were playing queens and knights. It's poetic!

I suppose the grasshopper is, too!

The grasshopper?

She said: "Close your eyes, open your mouth", and she gave him a grasshopper! A live one!

And you ate it! You ate it!

No I didn't, I spat it out!

It's true. I saw him do it.

Whether you ate it or spat it out, it's a stupid sort of joke!

The girl evidently takes you for a fool.

I forbid you to visit her again. Is that clear?

Daddy… Don't argue!

If it's grasshoppers now, what will they make you eat when you're older?

We saw the little girl at church, with her parents.

She's quite pretty.

But she looks pretentious and sly.

It isn't the end of the world.

Of course not, but Marcel is such a sensitive boy.

I know he'll suffer.

I refuse to have my son clown around for the amusement of a drunk's daughter.

The sudden hostility of my family filled me with despair.

They didn't understand the strength of this totally unique feeling.

They had never felt it themselves, since there was only one Isabelle.

Isabelle… Are you talking to me? I don't talk to spies.

I'm talking to my heart. You're nuts!

What is it? Isabelle is downstairs! Come in!

As a child, I couldn't stand these constraints, which made a mockery of the human condition.

Marcel, we're in the midst of a disaster.

First, I caught a chill.

I had a temperature all night.

And now I'm sick. Do you understand? I'm sick.

But that's not the worst thing. It's happened before.

The worst thing…

Smell anything?

An appalling smell suddenly filled my nostrils.

It's that naughty cat. She does her business all over.

Wait till I tell you the worst… Sadly, I already knew the worst.

On the day we were to exchange our vows, my beloved queen quite simply had diarrhoea.

And now she was looking for cat mess.

"Isabelle Cassignol"?

I was wondering who this Isabelle Cassignol was, when I discovered a letter addressed to "Mr Adolphe Cassignol, "proofreader, Petit Marseillais, Quai du Canal, Marseilles."

I didn't understand a thing.

And now, you shall hear the worst.

My father rowed with the newspaper's editor, a jealous rotter.

We have to go back to town. The house is up for sale.

I shall never come back… Never ever.

That's a real shame.

Is that all? I thought you were going to cry.

Me too.

Well, when the car arrives, I know I shall be sad.

And you must know why.

Yes. But aren't those your school books over there?

I'll play you a farewell piece.

I hope that this will make you cry.

Hang on, I'll be back in a second!

Mrs Cassignol was cleaning upstairs, before they left.

Blasted trunk! I manage to lose it on every trip!

And Lois de Montmajour was Adolphe Cassignol, who'd taken an assumed name like a fugitive.

Damn it!

The marble mantelpiece was cracked, the clock had a hand missing, the precious rug was a pile of rags, and the queen was called Isabelle Cassignol…

And she had diarrhoea.

Do you need something? No. I've come to see you.

Edmond of the Butterflies saw a flock of migrating birds this morning.

If only you had the time… I'll have time now.

I've decided not to go there again. I just told her.

How did she take it? She cried.

She's going to leave. That'll teach her!

She treated you like a dog!

Do you take yourself for a dog? She needs a kick in the ass!

Come on! Let's go see the snares!

Did you mention your school?


If she loves you, she'll write to you then.

Isab… She's gone.


Come on, Marcel!

Don't be soft, Marcel.

Don't be soft.

Anyway, girls are only tomboys, not real boys!

Shush! What a funny idea! You said so.

Daddy's cousin, the one who smokes cigarettes… Really? "Tomboy" means… It means girls are freaks of nature.

Because they blush for nothing and cry all the time.

We don't! We even know how to whistle and spit.

That's right. It proves that you are proper boys.

You seem less sad. I'm just not showing it.

I imagine, because of this sorry business, it'll upset you to spend the holidays here again.

Mommy, I'd never abandon my hills for a girl!

We have to come up to the hills every Saturday.

Every Saturday?

When we have the tram… The boys will have moustaches.

Look at them!

They've never looked so well.

And I've a healthy appetite. I know, but… In my opinion, Augustine is right. The city air is polluted.

No doubt. But we can't afford a horse and carriage.

And it's a good 4-hour walk.

We'd get here at 8 o'clock on Saturdays and we'd leave on the Sunday afternoon.

Why not on Mondays? I have to be at school by 8.

I have an idea.

Augustine's idea wasn't bad.

She often bumped into the principal's wife at the market.

She was a tall, beautiful woman with a long gold chain.

My slight and timid mother used to wave discreetly from a distance.

But she'd do anything for her boys… She began by waving more vigorously, then got closer and closer, and ended up brushing her hand in a basket of potatoes.

This kind-hearted woman advised my mother not to buy the tubers and took her to another stall.

Two days later, they were doing their shopping together.

The time after, the principal's wife invited Mother to come over for an English drink known as tea.

And as a finishing touch, Augustine made the most of her tailoring skills.

Joseph knew nothing of this conquest.

He was very surprised when he read the notice the principal had put up, concerning him.

On a whim, the all-powerful chief had decreed that my father would be… In charge on Thursday mornings?

In exchange, other teachers would take care of his pupils… On Monday mornings!

That means we can spend the weekends in the hills.

That's right. But should I thank the principal? No.

That'd be acknowledging he'd changed everything to suit one master… What should I do?

Don't worry, I've thought of that.

I sent a beautiful bouquet to the principal's wife.

Such a gesture might appear too familiar.

No. She took it very well indeed.

She even said I was a love.

You spoke to her?

Of course I did! We do our shopping together.

She even calls me Augustine.

So it was you who… Yes.

Children, your mother is a master of intrigue!

And that is how we were able to spend every weekend in the hills.

I'm telling you, Augustine, in tomorrow's society all the castles will be hospitals, all the walls will be knocked down, all the paths will be straight.

You want to start a revolution.

No! Not a revolution. It's an inappropriate word.

It means "a full circle".

As a result, those at the top go down, but then they return to their original position.

I loved these sociopolitical lectures of my father's.

Why hadn't the President of the Republic ever thought of calling on him during the holidays?

For he had made mankind happy in the space of three weeks.

Mr Joseph!

Bouzigue! What are you doing here?

Me? I'm doing my job, Mr Joseph!

I'm a lockman. It's all thanks to you, I can tell you!

You went to a lot of trouble for my school certificate!

And now I'm a lockman!

But what do you lock?

At last, I can teach you something!

It means I look after the canal.

With a lock? Course not!

With this key.

And this little black book.

With the key, I open and close the gates, I control the flow.

If I see a gap in the bank or a small bridge with a broken backbone, I jot it down in my notebook, then write a report in the evening.

It doesn't seem too tiring. Oh, no!

It's not hard labor! But then… Who'd want to send a good boy to the penal colony?

I've never done anything wrong. Except spelling.

I'm making progress, what with all me reports.

"My reports"!

Oh, Mr Joseph, don't correct me no more!

I see the little family has grown!

Your missus hasn't got any bigger, but she's still as lovely as ever.

Where are you going with all this stuff?

We're off to our house in the country.

Have you made a fortune? Ah! Not exactly, but… Give me those. I'll come with you.

You're very kind, Bouzigue, but we're going far.

As far as Les Camoins? Even further!

Up to La Treille? No. Les Bellons.

Where d'you get off the tram? La Barasse.

Poor beggars!

That's at least an 8-km walk! No. 9.

Do you do it often? Almost every Saturday.

Poor beggars! Once there, we don't regret it.

When something's trouble, I always regret it, I do.

But I have an idea. You won't do 9 km today.

That you won't! Come with me, we'll follow the canal which goes straight through all these properties.

In half an hour, we'll be at the foot of La Treille.

But… Come on!

Bouzigue… Are you sure it's perfectly legal?

What harm are we doing?

I met my old schoolmaster and I'm proudly showing him where I work.

If your bosses find out, you could pay dearly.

If there's trouble, I'll sort it out.

Because my sister is married… unofficially like… to a local councillor.

And she got Bistagne made assistant manager of the canal.

If Bistagne were to criticize me, she'd whack him with a bolster.

All right then, let's go!

Here's my canal!

It doesn't look like much, but without it, folks in Marseilles couldn't wash!

It's lovely.

That little bridge… I'm the one who got it fixed.

With underwater cement. There's a crack in it.

Where? Here.

That isn't underwater cement. There's too much sand.

Are you sure? Positive!

My father was in the building trade, and I know a bit myself.

If you don't seal it, it'll be 4 fingers wide in a month.

I'll put that in my report, I will!

The builder who did that will get bawled out.

Thanks, Mr Joseph. Don't mention it.

You're doing the community a favor!

We're coming to the castle!

The same key opens all the gates.

It's very handy.

This castle belongs to a nobleman. A count.

If the man sees us, he might not be pleased.

I don't care for nobles. No one speaks ill of him.

Maybe that's because they don't know him.

I bet he has henchmen in his pay.

Henchmen, no. But he does have a guard.

A sort of giant. I've met him a few times.

He never stops to talk. "Morning", "Evening", and that's it.

This one belongs to the notary.

It's always locked up, except in August.

A peasant takes care of the orchard.

That castle is the biggest and the most beautiful.

The owner lives in Paris.

Another nobleman. A baron, I think.

Never anyone but the guard.

Is this guard a friend? Not exactly.

He's a former sergeant. A drunk with a bad leg.

If ever he sees you, and it'd be extraordinary if he did, just run as fast as you can.

He won't be able to catch up, even with his dog!

He has a dog? Yes.

A huge dog, but he's at least 20 and he can hardly move.

His name's Hefty.


I promise you, there's no danger.

The way is clear. Come on! Hurry!

But keep down anyway.

And now for the surprise!

The Quatre-Saisons crossroads.

My God, I don't believe it!

We've just taken 24 minutes to do what usually takes us

2 hours 45 minutes!


I told you so! Faster than an automobile!

And now for a drink!

Ah no. Sorry! Mr Joseph, don't be so formal.

It's on me.

Do you have any Vichy water?

If you really want it, I've some in the cellar.

Do you have an upset stomach? No… But I like to top up my white wine with that beneficial water.

It makes a sort of champagne with a very pleasant taste.

This time, I'm not at all tired. If we could do that every Saturday… Well, madam… allow me to give you a present.

Take it.

What for? To save 2 hours on the way, and 2 on the way back. Take it, I've got another.

No. It's impossible.


Because I'm a civil servant.

If the local schools inspector heard one of his schoolmasters was trespassing with a false key!

It isn't false!

All the more reason!

You can't give it away.

No one will say anything to you! You saw it was all right.

I have principles.

Oh, no! Principles!

Come on now, Mr Joseph… What principles?

I would be ashamed to trespass purely out of self-interest.

It isn't becoming of a schoolmaster who teaches morals to children.

If this one were to see his father creeping around like a prowler, what'd he think? That it's shorter.

And he's right!

Look, Joseph, I know people who'd jump at it.

2 hours on Saturday, 2 hours on Monday: 4 hours gained.

I'd rather walk for 4 hours and keep my self-esteem.

I've an idea that'll fix everything. I'll give you a cap.

A lockman's cap on a schoolmaster's head?

Don't you know we could wind up before the magistrate?

Making your children walk as if it were the Foreign Legion… And with tons of gear and legs like sticks.

And Mrs Joseph who's ever so skinny!

And most of all… it's a shame for the canal. The canal? What do you mean?

What? What you told me about the underwater cement!

You don't realize. He doesn't realize.

That builder who added too much sand will have to reimburse at least 2,000 francs.

Maybe 2,500!

Because I'm going to write the report, I am.

And the cheat will be nabbed.

Thanks to who? Basically, you suppose… my secret collaboration sort of pays our way?

Ten times, 100 times, 1,000 times!

And if, every Monday, you give me a little note, a little report, I'll copy it out straightaway, add a few mistakes, and give it to my bosses.

Why, you'd be giving me a helping hand!

A bit you, a bit my sister… In a year's time, I'll be the local manager!

Of course… Joseph… before refusing, you ought to think.

That's what I'm doing.

We'd save money on shoes. On shoes, you bet!

If I can serve the community, even in an irregular fashion, and if I can also help you… Help me? It could change my career!

I'm not sure about that, but anyway… I'll think about it.

I don't know whether I'll use it.

We'll see.

An occasion to use the magic key presented itself on the Monday, when it was time to go back to town.

Have you seen the time? Come on, hurry up!

But Joseph, you're forgetting the key!

Ah no! Not today.

But, Daddy… I said no!

I'm taking no risks today. We have no provisions to carry, and besides, it's much easier to go down than up.

The following Saturday, we were before the first gate.

My father was at peace with himself, because he wasn't doing this to take a short cut, but to conserve the precious canal and save Marseilles from a drought.

However, he did fear the guards.

So he appointed me as scout.

Come on!

The wall of the last castle seemed like an impregnable fortress.

I could feel Augustine's hand shaking in my own.

Behind the wall, there was the drunken guard… And his dog… Bouzigue said he was huge.

See this, Daddy? A sharp knife?

It's for the guard.

If he attacks you, I'll creep up and kill him in the bottom.

That's brave, but you're too small. Give it to me.

You're big, stab him in the eye.

We shook all over as we crossed the grounds.


Fortunately, we saw neither man nor beast.

The key changed our lives.

Paul shot up all of a sudden like a jack-in-the-box, Augustine got her color back, and I stopped thinking about the exam which was looming on the horizon.

As for Joseph…

But his good mood would always peter out by dawn on Saturdays, for as soon as he awoke, he'd try to pluck up the courage to commit the illegal act.

Don't be afraid. Go on.

Hello, sir. Hello. I was expecting you.

I believe I have the honor of talking to the owner.

Indeed, sir.

Allow me to explain… No point, sir.

For some time now, despite your many precautions, I've been watching you trespass on my property.

The thing is, one of my friends, the canal lockman… Yes I know… I had the man come by this morning. That Boutique.

No. Bouzigue. He's an old pupil of mine… Yes I know. This Boutique told me everything: the house in the hills, the short tram line, the long walk, the children and the packets…

Speaking of which, this little lady seems rather laden down.

May I?


Take the children's packets.




And you, give!

Now, climb!

May I, Daddy?

Don't make yourselves late.

I don't know how to thank you, sir. I'm touched, really touched.

So I see. Such spontaneity is delightful.

But I'm not offering you much.

You're simply crossing my grounds, and I'm not against it, that's all.

There's nothing miraculous about it.

What is the name of this lovely little girl?


Hello, Germaine.



I tend to forget my scar.

A sword blow in a hop field in Alsace, 35 years ago.

She's too young to appreciate military virtues.

Tell her that a cat scratched me.

At least it will teach her to be cautious.

From now on, please ring at the gate and take the main avenue.

The path is much shorter on that side.



From that memorable day, the walk across the castle grounds was the highlight of our Saturday.

Do you know what these roses are called, madam?

King roses.

It's a variety I created myself.

Allow me to give them to you.

Our republican family was ennobled by these King roses.


Where are you going?


Don't worry, I'm just pretending because the masters are watching from up there.

I hope the old man croaks soon. The doctor says it won't be long.

Show me that notebook! I'm to look at your papers.

My name's… Esmenard, Victor!

Residing at No. 82, rue de la République.

Now, run away so that it looks good.

Next time, I'll take a shot at you!

Next time, go round the other side, by the tomatoes, it's safer.

But there was still the last castle, with the guard and dog.

Augustine… Come now, Augustine… You're scared to death.


I'm sure the guard has seen us and he doesn't give a hoot.

Joseph, I'm scared.

It may be silly, but I'm scared.

How can he run after us with his bad leg and his sick dog?

Joseph, please… It's nerves. It'll pass.

It's simply nerves.


It's over.

Let's go.

And so off we went, and everything was fine.

The month of June was a month without hills.

It seemed bordered with high walls and this long prison corridor ended, over there, in a big iron gate.

The scholarship gate.

I don't understand it myself! It's elementary level!

Excuse me, have I passed?

The writer of this riddle has never spoken to children!

It smacks of the complicated tricks and the deceitfulness of secondary-school teachers.


You understood nothing!

I've passed then? Of course.

That'd be the last straw. Only there is passed and passed.

I had performed brilliantly, but had come up against a question about alloys.

It had been written with such perfidy that I only got second place.

Obviously, I'd have preferred first place… But you've got the lycée scholarship.

Well done, Marcel. Well done.

This teacher who had never been to the lycée was proud.

But all of a sudden he felt a secret torment.

"A… B… C… D…"

There lies all my knowledge.

And I'll teach it all my life.

One day, you may be ashamed of me.

I'm scared of losing you, tiddler. Why? I'm here.

You're here now, but when those lycée teachers have made a wise gentleman of you… I shall come back, Daddy, and teach you everything I know.

Outside, the summer holidays were underway.

You can go on! There's no danger!

We're the Esmenard family and we wish you well!

Hello, Victor Esmenard!

Joseph, I have a premonition. So do I.

I have a premonition that we're going to have a splendid holiday.

Quick, the guard isn't here.

How do you know? Maybe he's watching us.

You have an unhealthy imagination. But to spare your nerves, we shall play Comanches.

We got to the last magical gate, which was the gateway to our summer holiday.

And your premonition?

Open it quickly, please. Hurry!

Come on, don't get annoyed. You can see all is well.

There's a padlock and chain.

I knew it.

Good Lord, we're prisoners.

Let's pull it off!

Silly boy! That would be a crime.

That's right… a crime.

A crime that could fetch you up to three months in jail.

Hey! Quiet, Hefty. Quiet!

What are you doing here?

Who gave you permission to enter the baron's property?

Are you his guests, his relatives? What's your name?

Esmenard, Victor.

Be quiet, this is no time for jokes. For heaven's sakes!

Well, I never! He's well trained, he already gives false names.


That takes the biscuit!

A schoolmaster who trespasses on other folk's property.

A schoolmaster… When the son gives a false name, the father might produce fake ID.

Sir, our sole intention was to take a shortcut.

You start by taking a shortcut then make off with the silver.

You can see we're laden down!

Look at how tired my wife and children are.

Stop explaining, Daddy. He refuses to understand!

Go play with your brother.

Don't you move. May it be a lesson to you.

Quiet, Hefty, quiet!

Did you make this key? No.

You stole it, then. Of course I didn't.


I found it. Right!

And you instantly knew it opened all the canal gates.

Huh? Who gave it to you?

Huh? Who gave it to you?

I can't tell you. A civil servant with no conscience.

I've seen him stealing figs. I believe him to be honest.

But he gave you a public-service key.

For the good of the canal.

Quiet, Hefty!

I know a thing or two about cement and mortar… Here. Look at this notebook.

You're here as a specialist? Yes.

What about them? I've never seen specialists of their age.

This is fantastic proof.

You have no right. I do! Open these packets.

No! They're our personal belongings.

You refuse? You'd better watch out.

I'm an official guard.

Looks like you've burgled a grocer's.

Is it loaded? No.

That's a good job.

It's clean.

Luckily for you.

With this type of thing, it's easy to miss a partridge, but you can kill a guard.

A guard who isn't wary.

Right. Pack up all this stuff, all your packets, and go back the way you came.

I'm going to write my statement of offense.

I never knew teaching paid so well!

If you lose your job, you've only yourself to blame.

Come on! Come on, Hefty!


Great acting, but it doesn't fool me!

How powerless we are when in the wrong.

Come on, it isn't the end of the world!

As long as I'm a teacher we're on holiday, but if I no longer am next week, I shall be unemployed.

The naked lady is broken!

Daddy, the naked lady's broken!

The key… He kept the key.

It was the first time I had seen a burglar at work, and the criminal was my father.

Since I've been accused…

It's common courtesy to close it.

We had to go the long way round. We finally got to the bastide, which was waiting for us in the twilight.

Joseph, don't exaggerate.

They won't guillotine you for that.

Of course not. But you don't know the inspector.

He'll inform the chief education officer, and it could cost me my job.

Come on, it isn't such a crime.

Maybe not. Maybe not, but… It's enough to give an official warning to a schoolmaster.

And for me, a warning is as bad as dismissal.

I shall resign, Augustine.

What? You'd give up your pension?


But then… whatever will we live on?

I've no idea, but I shall think about it.

You could be a private tutor.

Give private lessons.

Oh, no… No. I'll go to see Raspagnetto.

Raspagnetto? The potato seller?

That's right. We were at school together, you know.

One day he said: "You're good at mental arithmetic.

"I've a big business, and I'll need a man like you."

I could explain to him, and he wouldn't scorn me.

You can't always count on friends.

I know, but Raspagnetto owes me a great deal.

I whispered him the answers in our exam.

And also… I've never told you this, but…

I have railway bonds.

Worth 780 francs.

They're hidden in the atlas.

I don't believe it… You've been hiding things?

It was for a rainy day.

My intentions were good.

Don't apologize… I've done the same thing.


But I only have 210 francs.

It's all I've been able to save from what you give me every day.


Daddy: 780.

Mommy: 210.

That makes 990.

I had 7 francs, and Paul, despite his little secrets, had at least 4 francs.

So that made 1001 francs.

I felt instantly reassured, and the sandman threw a handful of sand at me.

Come in!

A gentlemen is here to see you. Well, show him in.

Oh, Joseph! Fancy that! What a surprise!

I thought you were on holiday.

Rose is in the Roussillon with our boy.

I'm worried he'll get the accent!

Jules, I've come to tell you… I already know!

But how… That's right!

I saw the list signed by the education officer.

Congratulations! It's a misunderstanding… Come now! Don't be so modest.

An academic decoration at your age is quite exceptional!

Well done!

How powerless we are when we are in the wrong…

Joseph… Joseph… Why, that's a tragedy!

A peasant killed a gendarme from Aubagne over a statement of offense.

A statement of offense means dishonor and ruin.

That guard was a real nuisance.

He denounced me for hiding 4 thrushes in my bowler.

A 4-franc fine I got!

Well? Yes, well?

Hang on! Let me wet my whistle.

Right. Well?

I saw the guard. He was writing the statement.

I told him not to. He said: "I won't hesitate."

I said: "Why?"

He said: "Teachers are always on holiday."

I told him about the rock partridges.

Then he said: "I don't give a damn."

So I said… So you said? So I said… no more.

He carried on writing his statement, loving every minute of it.

If that guard ever comes up to our hills, he'll soon get what's coming to him!

They can't punish you, you've an academic decoration.

Daddy… Yes, they can!

They can always demote a civil servant who's getting an official warning.

Daddy, you ought to be a farmer.

What an idea! He has to change jobs.

Yes. But I wouldn't know how… No need to be an expert when things just grow.

See this chickpea?

No need for water, no need for manure, or even for soil.

And the hasty bean. Hasty?

The runner bean.

Well, you dig a little hole, you put the bean in, you cover it with earth, then you run before it gets you!

It's a slight exaggeration, but it does grow very fast.

I'm going for a nap.

And Bouzigue? He wasn't at home.

Don't you want to eat anything? No. Nothing.


Mr Joseph!

Mr Joseph!



This is for you. My notebook!

The guard gave it to you?

Gave, no.

I wouldn't say that!

This morning, as soon as I found your note, I went for reinforcements. Binucci, who's a lockman like me…

and Fenestrelle, who's a waterman.


Right! I'm reporting you!

It's forbidden to padlock the gates along the canal!

Article 82 of the agreement.

You're reporting me? Surname, first name?

You can't do that! Resisting, are we?

Watch it, the law's on my side!

I'm being reported?

Wait… Wait! The padlock wasn't for you.

I swear!

It was to stop the people who were trespassing with a false key.

A false key? Hear that? A false key!

That all you can come up with? Look, here it is.

Exhibit A. Any other evidence?

The gang leader's notebook.

A schoolmaster.

Exhibit B.

My report for your department.


And last but not least, my statement of offense.


We still need the padlock key.


Thank you.

Don't mention it, gentlemen.

Right… Everything's in order.

Silly man!

Silly man! In an official report, you confess!


That you put a padlock and chain on a department gate!

What are you going to do?

Quiet, Hefty, quiet!

Poor thing, he's upset. Maybe this time… Hey! The law is the law!

Unless… Yes?

We'd have to destroy all the exhibits.

But I can't take that responsibility.

I can. If you value your kepi… Tear it up. Go on, tear the whole lot up!

There, all gone. Smaller. Make confetti!

Smaller! Like this? There.

Hang on! No, hang on!


Like that, you'll be well guarded!

But… Hefty! Hefty!



Give it to me, Hefty! Hefty, drop it!

No. Quiet! Nice doggy. Give it to me.

That's it.

It's all sorted now, but you'd best not go that way.

Even if we had permission, I wouldn't have the courage.

Why, I think I would faint!

Don't you worry, we'll travel by carriage.

Like Uncle Jules? Yes. Like Uncle Jules.

Have you won the lottery?

Joseph has received an academic decoration.

He's being promoted, which means 22 francs extra per month!

Marcel, go fetch Uncle Jules's bottles.

But, Mr Joseph, it's wine that does the least harm.

You drink the water from the tank, but do you know what's in it?

Water from the sky.

That's right. Water distilled by the sun.

I bet you that you'll also find a dozen black spiders, two or three lizards and a whole family of toads!

Tank water… tastes like toad pee!

Maybe. But alcohol is no good for your health…

Don't get on my nerves!

Time passes, and it turns the wheel of life as water turns a mill's.

Five years later…

I was walking behind a carriage whose wheels were so high that I could see the horses' shoes.

I was in black, and young Paul held my hand very tightly.

Mother was carried away for ever.

For many years, until I reached manhood, we never had the courage to talk about her.

Then young Paul became very big.

He grew a bristly beard.

He would lead his goats up into the Étoile Hills.

He was Virgil's last goatherd.

But at the age of 30, he also died.

My Lili had been waiting for him in the cemetery for years, under a patch of everlasting flowers.

In 1917, in a black forest in the North, a bullet had cut him down in the prime of life and he had fallen on clumps of cold plants whose names he didn't know.

Such is the life of men.

A few moments of joy soon erased by unforgettable sorrows.

It isn't necessary to tell children that.

There she is! There she is!

Did you see her?

Did you see Pomponette come back?



Ten years later, I set up a film company.

It was a successful enterprise.

Under the skies of my Provence, I wished to build a film studio.

My solicitor looked for a property for this wonderful project.

He found a place while I was in Paris.

He informed me of his find by telephone.

He was so enthusiastic, and I knew him to be honest.

So I bought the property unseen.

A week later, I went to take possession of this Promised Land.

It wasn't a monument, but the vast residence of a grand bourgeois of the Second Empire.

I was proudly watching the birth of a great enterprise when I saw a hedge of shrubs in the distance.

My heart stopped, and I set off on a mad dash across the meadow and across time.

It was only when I saw it over the hedge that I recognized the castle.

The castle of fear, of my mother's fear.


Yes, this was it. It was the canal of my childhood.

I walked slowly along the path of my childhood holidays, and the past's beloved shadows walked by my side.

At the foot of the wall, by the canal, stood the black gate, the one that had refused to open.

My humiliated father's gate.

I felt I could breathe more easily, the bad spell had been broken.

But on the other side of time, a very young brunette was still holding the red King roses to her weak heart.

She heard the guard's cries, the dog's rasping breath.

Pale, trembling and for ever inconsolable, she didn't know that she was on her son's estate.