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Overview for Marcel Pagnol
Marcel Pagnol

Marcel Pagnol


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Also Known As: Died: April 18, 1974
Born: February 28, 1895 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: France Profession: Writer ... screenwriter director playwright producer teacher


Marcel Pagnol is often dismissed in film histories as an author of "canned theater" whose appeal is limited to a certain regional quaintness. This attitude is partly due to the fact that he first found fame as a playwright, but Pagnol did play a central role in developing and popularizing sound film in France. At a time when the French film industry was being radically transformed by the introduction of sound, Pagnol emerged as a major writer, director and producer of hugely successful films. Like Sacha Guitry, another homme du theatre with whom he is often compared, Pagnol initially assigned film a dubious artistic status, but once he became interested in the medium, he abandoned the theater altogether and in 1933 founded his own production company, Les Societe des Films Marcel Pagnol. In the process Pagnol became one of the few French directors of the period to control virtually every aspect of film production.

Pagnol's name is virtually synonymous with Marseilles, the southern port which provided him with his cultural roots, the setting for much of his work, a host of Provencal character types portrayed in his films by a remarkable group of actors including Raimu and Fernandel, and the region's unique accent--"introduced" at the moment when its originality would be most striking, when film was beginning to talk. Pagnol shared with the writer Jean Giono a profound respect for the region's people and traditions and an affinity for simple morality tales concerning family honor. Simple, austere and often sensual, his characters' authentic lives are portrayed through richly poetic language and an attention to authentic details of setting and speech.

Pagnol's first vocation was teaching, but even before he took his first job, he had published poems, written a play and founded the review FORTUNIO (which later became the prestigious CAHIERS DU SUD). In 1922 he obtained a teaching position in Paris, where he wrote "Pirouettes," his first novel. But theater preoccupied him. With Paul Nivoix, he wrote three unremarkable plays, one of which ("Direct au Coeur") was later filmed (1933). Pagnol's first success came with his satirical comedy "Topaze" (1928), and, after he gave up teaching altogether, he solidified his reputation with his memorable Marseilles works "Marius" and "Fanny."

Here begins Pagnol's transition to film. "Topaze" (1932), directed by Louis Gasnier, was adapted for the screen, while "Marius" (1931, Alexander Korda) and "Fanny" (1932, Marc Allegret) were also filmed. For the film version of "Cesar" (1936), Pagnol took over the directorial reins himself and scored his first complete film triumph. Pagnol would direct two more versions of "Topaze," in 1936 and 1950, as well as adapting the work of other regional authors, especially Alphonse Daudet ("Les Lettres de mon Moulin," 1954) and Giono ("Regain," 1937; "La Femme du boulanger," 1938). Pagnol also occasionally played the role of independent producer, notably on Jean Renoir's "Toni" (1934).

It is in the best sense that Pagnol is generally regarded as a creator of regional works representing a simpler time. And yet, revaluation has Still, the recent success of Claude Berri's "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des sources" (both 1986), based on a Pagnol story which he filmed as "Manon des Sources" (1952), demonstrates a continued interest in his work.

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