Honoré Panisse is dying, cheerfully, with friends, wife, and son at his side. He confesses to the priest in front of his friends; he insists that the doctor be truthful. But, he cannot bring himself to tell his son Cesariot that his real father is Marius, the absent son of César, Cesariot's godfather. Panisse leaves that to Fanny, the lad's mother. Dissembling that he's off to see a friend, Cesariot then seeks Marius, now a mechanic in Toulon. Posing as a journalist, Cesariot spends time with Marius and leaves believing tales he is a petty thief. Only after the truth comes out can Marius, Fanny, César, and Cesariot step beyond the falsehoods, benign though they may be.
A lot had happened in the five years between the first and the last films in the trilogy. After the success of Marius, Pagnol had abandoned the theater to concentrate on films. He had formed his own production company, Les Films Marcel Pagnol, to make Fanny, and began writing and producing, and eventually directing, most of his own films. One of the things that had been unique about Marius in that early talkie era, when many films carried over the conventions of silent film, was its naturalism. (Italian directors Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio de Sica later called Pagnol the father of neorealism.) Pagnol refused to be enslaved by the cumbersome sound equipment, and insisted on shooting on location in Marseille and its environs. The films' themes are universal - love, family, restlessness, loyalty - but the stories are rooted in Southern France, familiar and beloved by the Provencal-born Pagnol. So his actors spoke in the accent of the region, which was rarely heard in French theater or film. A writer first, language was important to Pagnol, and he was not afraid of long passages of dialogue -- comic, earthy, sometimes poetic, and rarely boring. As director Jean Renoir said, "Cinema in itself existed before talking films. Not in Pagnol's eyes. Speech is as vital to him as color was to Michelangelo." It was a style of filmmaking that Pagnol seemed to be making up as he went along. Yet the French public was enthralled, and Fanny had been even more popular than Marius. The public wanted a resolution to the story of the star-crossed lovers, and Cesar provided it. Unlike its predecessors, it was not based on a play, but written originally for the screen. The stage version of Cesar, first produced in 1946, was based on the screenplay.
By the time he made Cesar in 1936, Pagnol had a core group of production staff and a stock company of actors to help him realize his vision. The leading actors in the trilogy reprised their roles in two sequels, and in between acted in other Pagnol films. Pagnol's relationships with some of them were complicated. He was married, but for years had an on-and-off relationship with actress Orane Demazis, who played Fanny. In 1930, he had a son by an English dancer. Demazis gave birth to Pagnol's second son Jean-Pierre in 1933. By 1935, Pagnol had moved on to a worker in his Paris production office who also had a child with him. Demazis would appear in two more Pagnol films, Harvest (1937) and Le Schpountz (1938), and although she continued in films into the 1970s, and worked with directors such as Luis Bunuel (Le Fantome de la Liberte, 1974) and Andre Techine (Souvenirs d'en France, 1975), she never again had the kind of success she'd had with Pagnol.
Pagnol had cast music hall comic Raimu as Cesar in the stage version of Marius (1929), the first time Raimu was taken seriously as an actor. He had appeared in some silent films, but when he appeared in the film version of Marius, his film career took off. His Cesar was the heart of the trilogy, gruff, sentimental, practical, comical and lovable. Over the next fifteen years, Raimu became one of the most revered actors in French films, working with the country's leading directors and earning the praise of international luminaries such as Orson Welles, who called him "the greatest actor who ever lived." In 1943, Raimu took a break from film acting to join the prestigious Comedie Francaise, appearing in the plays of Moliere. Raimu died in 1946, at the age of 63. In the biography The Pagnol Years (1989), the authors write that Pagnol recalled his "often stormy relationship with actor Raimu. Even in difficult times, and there were many between those two men who had the same accent as well as the same 'passionate' temper, they would find suitable tone and words to talk to each other. They would be 'at daggers drawn' with each other only to get together even better later on. They both considered, just like Cesar and Panisse, that nothing can be serious enough to justify the most irreparable loss, the loss of a friend."
Pagnol directed more than 20 films, and in 1946 became the first filmmaker to be elected to the Academie Francaise. In the mid-1950s, he abandoned filmmaking and turned to writing memoirs of his youth, novels, and translations of Virgil and Shakespeare. He died in 1974, acclaimed as a giant of French film and literature, the creator of some of the most beloved films and characters in French cinema.
Director: Marcel Pagnol
Producer: Marcel Pagnol
Screenplay: Marcel Pagnol
Cinematography: Willy Faktorovitch
Editor: Suzanne de Troeye, Jeannette Ginestet
Art Direction: Galibert
Music: Vincent Scotto
Principal Cast: Raimu (Cesar Olivier), Pierre Fresnay (Marius), Orane Demazis (Fanny), Fernand Charpin (Honore Panisse), Andre Fouche (Cesariot), Alida Rouffe (Honorine Cabanis), Milly Mathis (Aunt Claudine Foulon), Robert Vattier (M. Brun), Paul Dullac (Escartefigue).
by Margarita Landazuri
The Fanny Trilogy on DVD
The multitalented Pagnol (1895-1974) began his a career as a playwright and turned to film directing only in 1934; a member of the Academie Francaise, he was also noted for his novels and memoirs. His best work tends to be set in the south of France, particularly around Marseilles where he was born and grew up. Marius premiered as a play in 1929 and Fanny in 1931; Caesar, in contrast, originated as the film. Together with Pagnol's satire Topaze, which opened less than a year earlier, Marius was one of the greatest box-office successes of the French stage. In particular, the card game scene in Marius has become an indelible part of French popular culture. Part of the immense appeal of the original plays comes from Pagnol's engaging and authentic use of the Marseilles dialect and southern character types, which was a novelty on the Parisian stage of that era.
At the same time, The Fanny Trilogy transcends local color to present full-blooded characters and dramatic situations that arise organically from the characters' basic traits and values, giving the stories universal appeal. It is deeply touching to see, for example, how Panisse pretends not to know that Fanny's child is not his, both in order to preserve his dignity and to keep questions from arising about the child's legitimacy. Here there are no outright villains, and we come to appreciate all the major characters' motives for their actions even if we don't necessarily approve of them. Moreover, even the seemingly throwaway moments in the scripts serve to build up a real sense of rapport both among the characters and with the audience. Pagnol's humanist vision, very much on display in these films, has rightly earned the admiration of directors such as Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and the Italian Neorealists.
In Marius (dir. Alexander Korda, 1931), the first installment of the trilogy, Pagnol introduces us to a close-knit group of characters in the Old Port of Marseilles: Cesar, the strong-headed bar owner; Marius, his restless son; Fanny, the fish-peddler with whom Marius falls in love; Honorine, Fanny's mother; Panisse, the pompous but kind-hearted owner of a sail shop; Escartefigue, the genial ferryboat captain and cuckold; and Mr. Brun, the Lyonnais. The basic conflict arises when both Panisse and Marius express romantic interest in Fanny. While Fanny is in love with Marius, the future of their relationship remains in doubt because of Marius' lifelong fascination with the sea and his ambition to become a sailor.
In Fanny (dir. Marc Allegret, 1932), Marius is already at sea when Fanny learns that she is pregnant. Although Panisse offers to marry her, she is torn because of her pregnancy out of wedlock. The widower Panisse, who has been longing for a child of his own, nonetheless agrees to marry her on the condition that the child be recognized solely as his. Cesar, on the other hand, wants the child to be recognized as the offspring of Marius. Matters are complicated when, several months later, Marius returns.
In Cesar (dir. Marcel Pagnol, 1936), we meet up again with the characters twenty years later. When Panisse dies, the son Cesariot--now a young man--discovers the truth about his real father, Marius, and decides seek him out. Fanny, in turn, must face up to her long-suppressed feelings for Marius and decide whether to resume their relationship. By the time Pagnol himself directed the last film in the trilogy, he had already made several films and had formulated his basic stylistic approach as a filmmaker. While Cesar is the loosest of the three both in terms of directorial style and dramatic structure, it remains a striking example of Pagnol's keenness for authenticity of setting. Not only was most of the film shot on location, giving us lovely views of Marseilles and its surroundings, but Pagnol's insistence on live sound--even if it means considerable background noise--is remarkably forward-looking. The organic relationship between the use of natural locations and the film's style should put to rest any notion that as a film director Pagnol was overly dependent on theatrical models.
In terms of the video transfer, Marius looks very good for a French film of the era, displaying strong detail and contrast. The print of Fanny has more flaws than Marius, including some out-of-focus shots, but they appear to be inherent to the surviving materials or the original photography. On the whole, the sharpness and contrast still look solid. At the same time, the shot compositions in the first two films sometimes seem a little tight around the edges. It is possible that, as early sound films, they originally had the square-ish aspect ratio of 1.19:1 and thus should look more like the Criterion Collection's edition The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933); here they are presented in the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The print used for Cesar has weaker contrast and looks washed out compared to the first two films, with especially thin black levels, though the image is still workable. Certainly, these transfers look far better than any versions I've seen on home video before.
The films' soundtracks appear to have been cleaned up digitally to remove excess noise; in principle, this is not a bad idea considering the quality of sound reproduction during the early Thirties and in France in particular. However, one of my friends pointed out that some of the sound effects in Marius appear to have been re-recorded, since they are too "clean" and have more presence than the dialogue and music. When I compared the DVD of Fanny to the older Interama version on videocassette, the beginning of the DVD soundtrack had seagull sounds that were not audible at all on the videocassette soundtrack. If sound effects were in fact added or re-recorded, it is not indicated anywhere on the packaging. While I am mostly in favor of applying digital restoration technology to older film soundtracks, there is a danger that remixed or re-recorded soundtracks can give a misleading picture of film history, for the artistic identity of a film is intimately tied with the technology of the era in which it was made. While the aforementioned possible changes are relatively minor and don't detract from the films' overall dramatic impact, if the soundtracks were in fact changed then the persons responsible should have been more forthcoming about it. Incidentally, one should keep in mind that Kino licensed the titles from Compagnie Mediterraneenne des Films in France and that it is they who may have supplied Kino with the transfers ready-made rather than Kino doing the transfers in-house. At any rate, it is unlikely that Kino, a relatively small distribution label, would have engaged in extensive audio restoration on its own because of the cost involved.
The special features include an essay insert by Bertrand Tavernier, theatrical trailers, and galleries of stills, posters and other promotional materials. A fourth disc contains a 75-minute documentary called "About the Trilogy" (actually, several shorter segments stitched together), consisting mainly of observations by various Pagnol experts. While their basic approach is scholarly, their insights are genuinely interesting. For me, the most welcome extra was the subtitled audio essay by Pagnol, spread out over the first three discs. In it he talks about the genesis of the project, his friendship with Raimu and conflicts among the cast and producer. Pagnol is a great storyteller, and it's a pleasure just to hear him speak. The DVD case, which incorporates original poster artwork, is attractively designed. All three installments of Marcel Pagnol's "Fanny Trilogy" are wonderfully written and acted films that hold up to repeat viewings. Despite reservations about the authenticity of the soundtracks, this set is very much recommended. Now let's hope that we get to see DVDs of Pagnol's Angele (1934), Harvest (1937), The Baker's Wife (1938), and the original 1952 version of Manon des Sources. This director's work deserves a much wider audience.
For more information about The Fanny Trilogy, visit Kino International. To order The Fanny Trilogy, go to TCM Shopping.
by James Steffen