(France, 1936, 123 minutes, b&w, 35mm)
César, released in 1936, is the concluding film in Marcel Pagnol's warm and profound trilogy of French life in the 1930's, following Marius (1931) and Fanny (1932). Audiences have renewed their love for these films for over six decades, but when they were originally produced, critics sneered, calling them cliched. Pagnol sneered back: "I only write about cliches," he said, and his meaning was clear: perhaps to the boulevardier and the sophisticate, the lives of ordinary French men and women were trite, dull, uninteresting. But to Pagnol the small romances, the philosophical musings about work and family, and the little squabbles of common folk, were the stuff of epic. In his hands, fishmongers and tavern keepers became grand figures, and his Marseille joins Joyce's Dublin, Faulkner's Mississippi, and William Kennedy's Albany as an ordinary place made magical by its loving chronicler.
Pagnol was both a man of Marseille and a man of the theater, and he strove to unite these two passions in the trilogy. The infinite variety of the human voice, and the physical truth of the actor -- this was the stuff of Pagnol's cinema. And if the critics sniffed at what they thought was a static and uninventive visual style, audiences found in Pagnol's work echoes of the kind of life they lived, in which a beloved child leaving home or a neighborhood infidelity was the stuff of great drama. Pagnol's cinema is one in which people talk, and laugh, and weep, and show anger and exaltation. He moors his camera securely; César is not a fantasy of camera choreography, but a kind of documentary of the intricate workings of a small community of city people. Perhaps that is why, upon their original release, Pagnol's trilogy was popular not only in French cities, but in New York, London, and Tokyo.
Critics had another reason for slighting Pagnol: he unapologetically promoted himself as the creator of his films, although in most cases, he did not direct them. He had written the scripts, and prepared their stage versions, and as a producer, he felt that even the finest director's of the day, such as Fanny's Marc Allegret, were little more than recorders of the vision of the writer. In the country which originated the auteur theory, this would long be thought of as heresy. Ironically, it was film theorist Andre Bazin, the patron saint of the auteur theory, who began the critical rehabilitation of Pagnol. Why, wondered Bazin, did camera work and editing have to be thought of as the only proper essence of the cinema? Perhaps the human being, in all his strange splendor, was the real spiritual center of the cinema? Pagnol seemed to know this intuitively, and used the cinema, the century's most technological of art forms, to re-present the image of humanity to his rapt audiences. When he died in 1974, adored by the people, and still the source of frustration to many critics, Pagnol's position as a popular artist was engraved in the French pantheon. As Richard Roud said of the Marius trilogy, "perhaps the three films weren't 'cinema,' but they were and are movies."
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
César is the third installment of Marcel Pagnol’s famous Marseilles Trilogy about wandering sailor Marius, his lady-love Fanny, and their child Césariot. The New York State Writers Institute screened the first two installments as part of the Fall 2002 Classic Film Series.
Marius (1932), the first film in the trilogy, follows the relationship between Marius, son of seaside café owner César, and Fanny, a beautiful girl who loves him unselfishly. Marius ultimately abandons Fanny to run off to sea, leaving her pregnant with their child.
In Fanny (1932), the second installment, Fanny marries the elderly Panisse, who agrees to raise her son Césariot as his own. When Marius returns from the sea, a custody battle ensues and Marius ultimately agrees to allow Panisse to be the father of his son.
Though Pagnol wrote all the episodes and directed them on the Paris stage, he deferred to the filmmaking expertise of others in making Marius (directed by Alexander Korda) and Fanny (directed by Marc Allegret). César marks his directorial debut as a filmmaker.
The following is taken from a review by Marty Mapes that appears on the website, MovieHabit.com:
The final entry in Marcel Pagnol’s Marseilles Trilogy takes place 20 years after the second installment. The baby Césariot is now a man and his father, Mr. Panisse (Charpin), is now 70 years old. Panisse and his friend César (Césariot’s godfather, who is also Marius’s father and Césariot’s biological grandfather) are old and slow, but they reflect on the years with amazement, forgiveness, and wisdom.
Fanny has grown older, too. She hasn't forgotten her first love, Marius (Césariot’s true father), but she has been happy with Panisse who loved and provided for her and her son.
After Panisse’s funeral, Fanny tells Césariot (André Fouché) what Panisse was never able to—that Panisse is not his real father. She talks about her younger self, about her love for Marius, about the awkward situation she found herself in, and how Panisse, came to her rescue.
Césariot reacts angrily, emotionally—he probably gets it from his father’s side—but in a day or two he seems calmer. Without telling his mother, he sets out to find his father, a mechanic in the town across the bay….
As in the other two films, the dialogue and acting are excellent. If anything, the acting is even better than the two previous films. The actors have taken complete control of their roles, and they are completely at home in their parts. (It’s interesting to note that this is the first film in the trilogy that Pagnol actually directed. He seems to have handled the actors and the filmmaking quite well.) César is an excellent cap to the two previous films. Although the second film didn’t require a follow-up, the third film is a great summary, a satisfying punctuation mark, peaceful closure to the soap-opera turmoil of Marius and Fanny.
Taken together, the three films in the Marseilles trilogy are one of cinema’s outstanding dramatic accomplishments.
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.