The hermit, a car crash, his widow and the dosh

It was an unusual marriage, and a short one. John Lichfield on the anger among villagers towards the wife who inherits a mountainside

The wedding of Sandrine and Marcel Amphoux in a French Alpine village was a memorable affair. She was a glamorous 42-year-old Parisian estate agent and he a toothless, 67-year-old local hermit. The villagers of Puy Saint Pierre turned up to boo and shout insults.

That was 15 months ago. Last week the village (population 520) turned out en masse once again –for Marcel's funeral. This time, there were no boos, but there were angry murmurs when the widow, elegantly dressed in black, tried to hurl herself into Marcel's grave.

The parish priest gave a sermon in which he spoke of "manipulation". He suggested that Marcel, 68, the owner of five potentially valuable shepherds' huts, had been treated like a "balance sheet" rather than a human being.

Sandrine, 43, sat in silence. She gave her own eulogy for Marcel, which – to the fury of villagers – was dotted with references to Islam, rather than Christianity.

Marcel Amphoux died in a road accident 10 days ago. A car driven by a friend of his wife plunged from a mountain road in heavy mist. Marcel was killed instantly. The friend was badly hurt. The accident has been investigated by the gendarmerie. Foul play is not suspected. Sandrine will inherit Marcel's five tumbledown properties and six acres of barren mountainside close to the rapidly expanding ski resort of Serre Chevalier, near Briançon.

The marriage between Marcel and Sandrine was short but eventful. Their wedding picture appeared all over the world in September last year. Sandrine wore a magnificent mauve silk dress and carried a bunch of roses and a jewelled handbag. Marcel wore a grey suit, mauve silk tie and waistcoat and his battered, floppy hat.

After that, Sandrine spent most of her time in Paris, looking after her four businesses, including an estate agency. Marcel continued to live in one of his mountain huts, without electricity or running water. Sandrine and Marcel never lived together but they did make a pop record and a video clip, which was available on YouTube until last week. (It has now been blocked.)

The video was Sandrine's response to those villagers who suggested that her interest in the eccentric, local bachelor might not be entirely romantic. She cavorted in the Alpine meadows like a blonde Julie Andrews. She sang her own composition, "L'appel du soleil" ("The call of the sun"). Marcel – one assumed that it was Marcel – butted in from time to time, his face covered by a hood.

When the video was made in April, Sandrine spoke about their unconventional marriage to the local press. "Marcel is a man from the Middle Ages, even prehistoric times," she said. "I am a true Parisian. I still live there. But I visit my husband as often as I can. To see him and to make him smile."

Sandrine says that she met Marcel on holiday and that they fell in love. Marcel's neighbours say that she tried to buy his land and, when he refused, she courted him with trips to restaurants and the seaside. As the neighbouring ski resort expands, they say, Marcel's property will be worth a fortune. Old shepherds' huts, converted and extended into ski chalets, can sell for up to €800,000 (£646,000).

Villagers say that Marcel was a "marginal" and eccentric bachelor, who was forced by the veterinary authorities to give up farming 20 years ago. Sandrine says that Marcel's good nature was long abused by local people, some of whom had lived for many years in his properties for free.

After their marriage, the tenants received letters from Marcel's lawyer, complaining that they were not paying the rent. They paid up. Marcel never banked the cheques. The lawyer says that Marcel was unhappy with the marriage and had recently started an action to bring it to an end. Sandrine denies this.

At Marcel's funeral last Monday, Sandrine gave a dramatic oration in which she raised her arms to heaven and said "God is great" and "when the sun rises towards Mecca". As Marcel was buried, she had to be restrained from throwing herself into his grave.

Local people had accused Sandrine of trying to hold the funeral secretly. They turned out in force. One person gave a eulogy in which he described Marcel as "always the last person out collecting wood and the last person on the hillside bringing home his donkeys".

The local priest, Father Bertrand Gournay, refused to marry the couple in September last year. He said last week: "The circumstances of the marriage did not seem healthy to me … I knew Marcel, and he trusted me. If he had really wanted to marry, he would have come to me alone and asked me."

At the funeral, Fr Gournay said that "at the end of his life" Marcel was of more interest as a "balance sheet" than a human being.

A banner was placed on Marcel's house which read: "If you had never married, you would still be riding your tractor."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride