A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Marcel Pagnol's Marseille Trilogy (1931, 1932, 1936)

Marius (Alexander Korda, 1931)
Raimu and Pierre Fresnay in Marius
César Olivier: Raimu
Marius: Pierre Fresnay
Honoré Panisse: Fernand Charpin
Fanny: Orane Demazis
Honorine Cabanis: Alida Rouffe
Félix Escartefigue: Paul Dullac
Albert Brun: Robert Vattier
Piquoiseau: Alexandre Mihalesco

Director: Alexander Korda
Screenplay: Marcel Pagnol
Based on a play by Marcel Pagnol
Cinematography: Theodore J. Pahle
Art direction: Alfred Junge, Vincent Korda

Fanny (Marc Allegret, 1932)
Fernand Charpin, Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, and Orane Demazis in Fanny
Cast identical to Marius, except:

Félix Escartefigue: Auguste Mouriès
Aunt Claudine: Milly Mathis
Elzéar: Louis Boulle
Dr. Venelle: Édouard Delmont

Director: Marc Allegret
Screenplay: Marcel Pagnol
Based on a play by Marcel Pagnol
Cinematography: Nikolai Toporkoff
Production design: Gabriel Scognamillo
Music: Vincent Scotto

César (Marcel Pagnol, 1936)
André Fouché and Raimu in César
Cast identical to Fanny, except:

Césariot: André Fouché
Félix Escartefigue: Paul Dullac
Innocent Mangiapan: Marcel Maupin
Elzéar: Thommeray
Pierre Dromard: Robert Bassac
Fernand: Doumel

Director: Marcel Pagnol
Screenplay: Marcel Pagnol
Cinematography: Willy Faktorovitch, Grischa, Roger Ledru

Critics of the auteur theory -- that the director is the true "author" of a film -- point to Marcel Pagnol's Marseille trilogy as a glowing exception: It's the writer's characters and dialogue that carry all three films, even when Pagnol himself is the credited director, as he is in the third film, César. This amounts to nitpicking, I fear. Pagnol was on hand for all three films, even when they were nominally being directed by Alexander Korda and Marc Allegret (neither of them inconsiderable directors), and by all accounts Pagnol was not at all silent about making his opinions known. He had been an early enthusiast of the talkies, and immediately saw that his plays, Marius and Fanny, were naturals for the screen. What better way to sweeten his stories about life in Marseille than by opening them out with visuals of the actual waterfront? But for Pagnol, the words and the sounds came first: It's said that he would turn his back as a scene was being shot, and would only give his approval when what he heard sounded right. That presupposed, of course, a cast capable of making the words work, which meant starting with the original César, the actor known only as Raimu (Jules Auguste Muraire), and the original Panisse, Fernand Charpin, both of them born in the neighborhood of Marseille. The Marius, Pierre Fresnay, and the Fanny, Orane Demazis, had to be coached in the dialect, but most of the rest of the cast were from the south of France. The dialect is lost on us subtitle-dependent Anglophones, but it seems to have been one of the reasons that all of France took the trilogy to heart, relishing this slice of provincial life even in Paris. And it is a glorious trio of movies still, rich with comic performances, dominated of course by Raimu as the blustering, sentimental César. It's hard to find a performer to compare with Raimu, but the one that comes to my mind is Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, certain of himself and capable of explosions that go off with lots of noise and very little actual damage. Raimu, Charpin, and the actors that form their little circle -- best seen when playing cards, as in the classic game in Marius -- are a superb ensemble. There is some controversy over Demazis as Fanny -- the actress is described in one source as "pudding faced," and if you're expecting a gamine type like Leslie Caron, who played the part in the 1961 Fanny directed by Joshua Logan, you'll be disappointed. But I don't mind Demazis at all. While it's hard to think of her as the most beautiful girl in Marseille, she has the ability to pull off the more melodramatic scenes -- admittedly the weakest moments in the trilogy -- with real feeling. Pierre Fresnay is a touch too old in Marius and Fanny, but he comes into his own in César, when the character is closest to his actual age. But what makes it work are the ebullient characters and the splendid comic timing of the performers.

Filmstruck Criterion Channel

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