Monday, January 2, 2017

Pagnol's Marseille Trilogy--MARIUS, FANNY & CESAR--returns in beautiful new 4K transfers


For those who found themselves less than thrilled with Daniel Auteuil's semi-recent remake of Fanny and Marius (his César was announced but never seems to have made it to production), the newly restored, splendid 4K transfer of the original Marseille Trilogy by Marcel Pagnol from Janus Films should prove eye- and heart-opening. TrustMovies enjoyed Auteuil's work, while finding his adaptation of The Well-Digger's Daughter far superior to either his Fanny or Marius) but TM did wonder, post-viewing, why this "classic" trilogy was so highly revered.
Now, he knows.

For a whole lot of reasons, this original appears to be pretty much irreplaceable. And the truly gorgeous restoration it has now received should result in a slew of new fans. Though Pagnol directed only Césarthe final of the three films, he adapted all of them from his original plays, and he probably learned a lot by watching his other two directors at work (Alexander Korda on Marius and Marc Allégret on Fanny). The attribution of Pagnol (shown above) as the auteur here is not in the least misplaced, however, because it is his screenplays, specifically his amazing dialog (of which there is a ton) that account for what a knockout these three films are: individually, and even more so in their entirety.

Pagnol was a supreme humanist, and the skill with which he has created his dialog uncovers, time after time, the viewpoints of all his characters. These viewpoints conflict, which makes for the drama, but the author allows us to see each differing one so clearly that we identify with all his people. (Pagnol allows us to take sides, of course, but he doesn't unduly push us into one or the other.)

In the first of the three films, Marius, we meet all the many characters who inhabit this little seaside corner of Marseille, especially bar owner César, his son Marius, and the young woman the latter is in love with, Fanny. Marius is also in love with the sea and longs to sail off on it, and this tug-of-war between his two loves finally results in his sailing away and leaving Fanny pregnant -- though neither of them realizes this at the time.

The remaining two films, Fanny and César, let us see what happens over the next 20 years involving these main characters, as well as their relatives and friends, with special emphasis on an older gentleman named Honoré Panisse, a successful tradesman in town who also loves Fanny and proves pivotal to all that plays out.

In addition to being smitten with humanity in its many specifics, Pagnol was interested in how our needs and desires play with and against the rules of society. He wanted justice, all right, but only so far as it genuinely served the people. His take on everything -- from religion to sexuality, parenting to criminality, hypocrisy to doing-the-right-thing-for-the-right-reason -- is bracing, and the manner in which he tracks all this via his wonderful conversations between characters is among the most assured and entertaining in cinema history.

All this is evident in incident after incident: from stopping a public streetcar so that the players in a game of boules can take proper measurements to the nasty old joke of placing a hat over a rock in the street and watching what happens. Among the many delights is one of the great end-of-life "confession" scenes in which a dying man tells his priest that his greatest sin was how much he enjoyed indulging in that sin. This leads to one of Pagnol's many super-quotable lines, as the priest responds quite properly, "If sinning made us suffer, we'd all be saints,"

Pagnol is so full of rich scenes featuring wonderful dialog that you'll long to remember each and every one. And if these films sometimes grow operatic, not to worry. This is great opera. It's soap opera, too -- but raised to such high level that you won't mind one bit. Again and again, as you're listening intently to that dialog (or, more probably unless you speak French, reading those English subtitles), you'll be continually amazed by the fact that all these conflicting viewpoints are somehow correct -- as is true of all great tales that traffic in genuine humanity.

From Janus Films and running a total of nearly seven hours, the Marseille Trilogy makes its 4K, hi-def debut this Wednesday, January 4, at New York City's Film Forum for a nine-day run. Each film has a separate admission, but all three can often be seen on the same day. Click here to view the schedule and/or purchase tickets. Will Pagnol's Marseille Trilogy be shown elsewhere? Yes! On January 27, it will open in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal; on February 11 at the Cleveland Cinematheque in Ohio; on March 10 in both Cambridge, Massachusetts (at the Landmark Kendall Square), and Washington, D.C. (at the Landmark E Street Cinema); and on March 24 in Houston, Texas, at the Museum of Fine Arts.

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