The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)   Canada, 30 min
Directed by: Frédéric Back
Written by: Jean Giono (story), Jean Roberts (translator)
Starring: Philippe Noiret (voice) (French-language version) ; Christopher Plummer (voice) (English-language version)


Frédéric Back’s animated classic is quite simply beautiful in every conceivable way. Over the course of thirty minutes it manages to move and inspire, delivering a quiet and profound story with genuine power. Narrated by the warm dulcet tones of Christopher Plummer, the tale recounts the regular meetings between a man and a shepherd whose lifelong ambition is simply to plant trees. Over the course of decades they meet and the shepherd is unwavering in his almost impossible task as he attempts to reforest a vast desolate area whilst World Wars and ill health seem no barrier to his selfless labour.

The film beautifully illustrates the power of the individual and the great change a single man can make. It is a film about the power of endurance and faith and the inevitable march of time. In many ways the film itself is like the story of the shepherd as it is a lasting legacy to those who have toiled to create such beauty. Back’s animation is nothing short of breathtaking, the constantly shifting pastel illustrations effortlessly capture the passing of time and graceful movement in nature. It is the perfect marriage of story and style.

Thank you Frédéric Back for creating a film of transcendent brilliance.

Rendered by Canadian animator Frédéric Back in a meticulous yet airy cinematic impressionism – pencil crayon sketches, come to life – “L’homme qui plantait des arbes” is the simple story of Eleazard Bouffier, a shepherd who passes his days unnoticed, planting acorns in an arid, desolate highland in Provence.

There comes a moment when the curve of a treeless hilltop proves to be the brim of a man’s hat. Another when unrelieved sparsities of brown and grey give way, at last, to richly exuberant colours: we hear of the death of the man’s wife and son, played out before us in extreme simplicity, a still and sorrowful moment in a modern dance piece; then for a very long time we watch from a respectful distance as this solitary man painstakingly plants his seeds; only then, once it has been earned, does the screen finally blossom with colour.

Back thinks like a cinematographer: one joyous sequence puts us in mind of a cheerful Tarkovsky, beginning with a close-up of the narrator’s face, pulling back to reveal a man nodding to sleep on the bus seat in front of him, then tracking out the window to follow dogs running alongside as the bus makes its way down a dusty village road. When we hear of a grove of birches planted during the battle of Verdun, brilliant foliage bursts forth like artillery shells exploding on the barren earth.

This man’s solitary task of planting acorns and envisioning oaks spans decades, and one is struck by the similarities between the labour we see so carefully depicted and the labour of the animator who depicts it: both are long, quiet obediences in the same direction – a perfect match of medium and subject, animator and arborist both characterized by particularity and persistence.

Buy Me a Coffee at
Download the Film, the Audiobook and Two versions of the Book PDF
The Man Who Planted Trees 1 PDF
The Man Who Planted Trees 2 PDF
The Man Who Planted Trees Audiobook Narrated By Robert J. Lurtsema MP3The Man Who Planted Trees (1987) Animation by Frédéric Back MP4