289 Great Directors: Marcel Pagnol

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.”


Why This Director?
: Loved Baker’s Wife, so might as well get around to his most famous body of work.

My Last Experience Was…: The Baker’s Wife.

What Did I Watch: The whole trilogy of Marius, Fanny, and Cesar.

Where Does He Fit: Poor Marcel Pagnol made the poor decision to comment on film as a medium, saying it was mostly good for filmed theatre, and the Cahiers critics ravaged his reputations. One has to wonder what led him to make such a comment, as Marius is plenty cinematic even as it owes a heavy debt to the nature of literature in how these characters and their lives intersect and go in and out over the years. The primary film focuses on a man who loves the sea and wants to leave the port town Marseille for a trip on a boat, while Fanny is in love with him and his son Cesar tries to balance them both. A long, epic saga of mutual love that nevertheless becomes deeply complicated thanks to the fact that being a sailor’s wife is a thankless task and there is another proposal to come, we nevertheless come to deeply understand these characters over the course of the two hours, no matter how much nonsense they blabber (just like in The Baker’s Wife…supposedly. Damn those missing subtitles). Despite the tragic lack of acclaim, they have recently been restored, so start from here and work your way through the rest of the saga.

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The follow up obviously focuses on Fanny, and while you could easily watch it on its own, it goes with the aftermath of Marcel’s decision to leave and sail the seas, with Fanny marrying the man she previously rejected anyway and getting pregnant as a result. Marius then returns, and the romance becomes tragic once again even if there’s still all the humor you would come to expect. I think I preferred Marius for its setting the stage, whereas this movie is more of an enrichment, but what gets added to the tapestry is so beautifully sad that I’m frankly amazed that the final entry was able to make everything all right again, not to mention the consistent style even with Pagnol having different co-directors for the first two entries before going solo for the finale. In some ways, this feels like the Before Trilogy of 1930s France, but with bigger hams in front of the camera and a sensibility that grows chillier and then warmer as opposed to the other way around. Linklater has to be a fan, right?

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Cesar being longer than the other two films in the trilogy by about twenty minutes is totally unncessary, especially when the story of the family sort of coming together again and figuring things out once Fanny’s new husband dies is a fairly slight one, all things considered. Still, it’s nice to spend some time with these characters, and the character details are pitch perfect yet again, with the years that have gone by bringing something new in them to the forefront. The confession scene at the beginning is particularly sad and thoughtful, a sense of loss and what could have been if the situation wasn’t so messed up, with Cesar himself taking control until the problems get rectified. Marius’ redemption when they finally come together is particularly poignant.

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Most Valuable Asset: Epic scope of small towns.
Most Excited For: A viewing of The Baker’s Wife with decent subtitles, CRITERION.

Coming Up Next: John Stahl, Sirk’s pre-evolution. (Fassbinder and Haynes are the final evo and the Mega Evo respectively.)

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