(French, 1931, 125 minutes, b/w, video)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
Marius, the first installment of the trilogy, began life as a stage play. Its success brought it to the attention of film producer Alexander Korda. Pagnol had earlier been burned when previous plays had been filmed without his consultation; for the Marius trilogy, he retained creative control. (After Marius, he founded his own production company, and even published a journal of cinema studies, which propounded his ideas of filmed theater.) The film features richly detailed performances by Pierre Fresnay as Marius, and introduces us to the character who will become the spiritual center of the trilogy, Raimu, as the patriarch, Cesar. It is Raimu's ability to vault skillfully between comedy and melodrama that makes the trilogy the French version of the Indian masala film, a satisfying mixture of many emotions in the same narrative.
Pagnol's production methods were as quirky and loveable as his characters. His sets were relaxed and friendly, and, not surprisingly, he developed the finest repertory company in the history of the French cinema, many recruited from Marseille's musical halls. One of his most loyal actors, Fernandel, remembered his experiences with Pagnol this way: "With Marcel Pagnol, making a film is first of all going to Marseille, then eating some bouillabaisse with a friend, talking about the rain or the beautiful weather, and finally, if there is a spare moment, shooting…"
Marius' two sequels, Fanny and Cesar, though also very much stagey, were designed with the movie screen in mind. As was frequently the case with Pagnol's films, he did not direct his own screenplay, and that was fine with him.
Marcel Pagnol was a contrarian, a filmmaker who believed that the essence of the sound film was the human voice, and he made that voice rich, warm, and emphatically regional. The cinema, along with Henry Ford's motorcar, was in 1931 beginning to unify the world's consciousness with its shared experiences and imagery, creating the cultural conditions for what we now call globalization. Filmmakers in the US and Europe had already begun to shape their films for mass popularity, culling standard accents from the stage and even more standardized stories from national circulation magazines and bestsellers. Pagnol defied this trend, and in the process, made his Marseilles folk, their unique manners and speech, speak for all of France.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
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