Publications

Articles:

Variety (New York), 21 June 1948. New Republic (New York), 2 February 1948. New York Times, 13 February 1948. Today's Cinema (London), 19 July 1950.

Houston, Penelope, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1950.

Also see list of publications following Marius.

When Marcel Pagnol adapted his play Marius for the cinema in 1931, he was a relatively well-known young playwright who had recently left behind his modest Marseillais beginnings and a teaching career. By the time César, the third part of the trilogy, came out in 1936 (and was the no. 1 box-office hit for that year), he had become one of the most popular filmmakers in France, was running parallel careers as novelist, journalist, and publisher, and had founded his own film production company. His ''empire'' was completed by the opening of his own cinema in Marseilles for the release of César. For although Pagnol had to move to Paris to ''make it,'' his roots remained in the south, and the trilogy is first of all a tribute to Marseilles and its people.

Critics at the time may have preferred the cinematically innovative work of Renoir or Grémillon, or the committed manifestos of the Popular Front, but audiences flocked to see Pagnol's films and in particular the trilogy. Constant repeats on French television show that time has done nothing to erode this tremendous popularity, and some of the trilogy's phrases have entered the national vocabulary (''tu me fends le coeur!''). Apart from a first-class cast, Pagnol's joky claim that ''I only write about clichés'' may give a clue to this lasting appeal and relevance: like all Pagnol's films, Marius, Fanny, and César share a direct concern with simple but basic psychological and social relations, and primarily the family. The plot is simple: in Marseilles's old harbour, Fanny (a shellfish seller) and Marius (who works in his father's bar) love each other, but Marius longs for the sea. After he sails away (at the end of Marius), the pregnant Fanny has to marry the older and wealthier Panisse to save the family's honour. Marius comes back to claim his ''wife'' and son Césariot, but his father, César, sends him packing; this constitutes the plot of Fanny. César opens with Panisse's death (20 years later), upon which Césariot learns the truth about his paternity and seeks out his real father. Fanny and Marius are finally reunited. Although its ending seems positively to demand a sequel, Marius in fact was written as a single stage play. First performed in March 1929, it was an instant hit, so much so that Pagnol and Alexander Korda filmed it for Paramount in Paris, with almost the same cast. As was the practice at the time, foreign language versions were also shot (in this case German and Swedish). The film's trimph prompted Pagnol to write a follow-up, Fanny, also for the theatre but clearly with a film in mind. César was written directly as a screenplay and performed on stage only after the release of the film. The shift from stage play to film is reflected in the proportion of outdoor scenes, from the studio-bound Marius to César, where 25 minutes of the film were shot on location.

In the heated debates surrounding the coming of sound, Pagnol went against the dominant anti-sound trend, headed by people like René Clair. On the contrary, he declared that ''any sound film that can be projected silently and still remain comprehensible is a very bad film.'' True to this principle, Pagnol always considered the writer the true auteur of a film, and the mise-en-scène of the trilogy unashamedly puts the image to the service of the dialogue. Whether the films were technically directed by Korda, Marc Allégret, or Pagnol himself, they are ''Pagnol films,'' and the trilogy is, undoubtedly, theatrical, both in its overall ''classical'' structure, and in the presence of a ''chorus'' of minor characters who comment on the main action. It also draws on the tradition of stage melodrama: the illegitimate child, the overbearing father, the unexpected return of Marius in the dead of the night. Above all, it focuses on dialogue, written in Pagnol's unique blend of classical French and Marseillais idiom, spoken with the strong southern accent—its mark of local specificity and paradoxically its recipe for universal success. The trilogy was both leader and part of a new nation-wide fashion for the ''midi'' in the early 1930s, triggered off by sound cinema, although Marseilles and Provence had long boasted their own literary, theatrical, and music-hall traditions. Indeed, out of the Marseilles music-hall and theatre came most of the trilogy's actors: Raimu, Charpin, Alida Rouffe; Demazis was from Oran; Fresnay was the only non-southerner and he painstakingly— and successfully—learned the accent for Marius. These actors were central to the trilogy's success, cementing its unity and functioning as powerful box-office draw. But performance is also of structural importance to the films. Characters constantly perform for each other in the key spaces of French popular culture—the café, the shop, the street—while the actors act ''for'' the spectators in a manner reminiscent of the live entertainment traditions they came from, a common feature of French cinema of the 1930s. And just as the trilogy constantly mixes melodrama with comedy, they vary their register, from outrageous excess to intense sobriety (Raimu in particular excels at it). Accent, milieu, and performance lend the trilogy a naturalism which, despite its theatrical structure, makes it one of the recognised precursors of Italian Neo-Realism.

Family, patrimony, and community are at the core of Marius, Fanny, and César. Marius may be the archetypal romantic hero— crossed with Ulysses—but he is ultimately marginal. Whether Marius is present (in Marius) or absent (throughout most of the rest), the central figure is César, who is in turn father, godfather, and grandfather, the domineering and garrulous patriarch who decides or interferes with everyone's fate; the centrality of the role is given even more weight by Raimu's talent and charisma. A more benign patriarchal figure is that of Panisse, the shopkeeper who gives both name and inheritance to Fanny's son, allowing him to climb the social scale from bartender's grandson to student at the highest-ranking (Parisian, of course) university, Polytechnique. Meanwhile, Fanny's role is to produce a son and accept her marriage to Panisse, 30 years her senior, as atonement for her ''sin.'' To say that Pagnol's universe is oppressively patriarchal is to state the obvious. Clearly the films corresponded to dominant discourses about gender roles—either actual at the time of their release, or nostalgically desired later. However, Fanny is not, as most of her Hollywood counterparts at the time, ''punished'' by death or madness; she lives to bring up her son, happily as it turns out, accepted by the whole community, and eventually reunited with her romantic lover. Fanny, the central episode of the trilogy, is largely devoted to her. Interestingly, although it is rated the weakest of the three films by most critics, it was the most popular at the box-office, a success which cannot be simply ascribed to a masochistic identification on the part of women spectators. No doubt moral acceptance of Fanny's illicit pregnancy had to do with the dubious ''natalist'' ideologies of the time, but it was also a way of exposing and vindicating a woman's place in an oppressive society. In this respect, the dialogue of the trilogy gives Fanny space to vent her frustration at the patriarchs who rule her life.

Beyond individual characters, the trilogy stages a tight-knit community which vanished sociologically and geographically (if indeed it ever existed) under the bombs of World War II. In an urban setting, the films create a warm, close, pre-industrial society in which caring and nurturing are taken on by the whole group: César is a patriarch who prepares the food and sweeps the floor. Within this nostalgic structure, the melodramatic form allows the trilogy to state completely contradictory—and hence more ''realistic''—values: sexuality as both socially divisive and cohesive, escape as both condemnable (Marius) and desirable (Césariot). Reconciling opposites is the privilege of myth, a status which these crackly, stagy, old-fashioned melodramas have undoubtedly attained.

—Ginette Vincendeau

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