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My Mother's Castle

(Le Chateau de Ma Mere)
(French, 1990, 98 minutes, color, 35 mm)

Directed by Yves Robert


Cast:

Philippe Caubere . . . . . . . . . . Joseph
Julien Ciamarca . . . . . . . . . . Marcell
Nathalie Roussel . . . . . . . . . . Augustine
Julie Timmerman. . . . . . . . . . Isabelle

The 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:

MY MOTHER’S CASTLE is another installment of director/playwright/screenwriter Marcel Pagnol’s memoirs of his youth and adolescence in the France of the beginning of the twentieth century. Director Yves Robert’s MY MOTHER’S CASTLE was shot simultaneously with MY FATHER’S GLORY; the two films complete the deeply affectionate portrait of provincial France that spins through Pagnol’s memoirs, his novels Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, and the wildly embraced film adaptations that have come from this mosaic of family life. Here, the cycle comes full circle; in a flashback, Pagnol’s idyllic childhood is revealed as deeply inlaid in his adulthood, and in his life as a master French storyteller.

The coming-of-age story can mean crises, loneliness, or even searing tragedy. Not for Pagnol. For him, the only regrets are that childhood cannot last forever. His films, drenched in something far more subtle than nostalgia, are a screen wish that no incident of childhood, no sensation, no matter how insignificant, should ever be forgotten. In MY MOTHER’S CASTLE, he conjures a dream of youth out of an episodic screenplay that idles along a winding narrative path, disinterested in conflict, and stopping to enjoy glimpses of both the beautiful and the absurd around him.

Indeed, in the film’s only suspenseful moments, the idea of the country path becomes central. “Marcel” (Julien Ciamarca) and his family take a more direct way, across a cranky neighbors estates, to shorten their walk from home to their village in Provence. Escaping the gaze of the landowner becomes a quest, and Marcel’s father “Joseph,” (Philippe Caubere), leads his family troupe alongside the rural canals that border in what becomes a routine journey. Skulking about the countryside, the family’s trip becomes a tiny jest at the expense of the manners and laws of French lawgivers. Joseph is a conscientious teacher, and his respect for the law is so effectively communicated to his family that it is almost a relief when they are menaced by a thuggish, drunken guard and his noisy companion, “Masher.”

But Joseph’s respect for authority does not extend to its abuse. When his son falls for “Isabelle” (Julie Timmerman), daughter of a dissolute poet, he won’t allow Marcel to surrender his dignity, even for love. And that is the way ethics are taught in Joseph’s classroom: Robert moves easily between the wry, comic indirection of lessons learned the wrong way, and the serious directness of a strong family’s useful teachings.

Around Pagnol’s youth, manhood, and maturity swirled some of the most turbulent events of France’s history. Dreyfuss, Verdun, Vichy, Algeria, May of ’68. . . But his Provence is a refuge from the ambivalence of modernity, a place where the most dramatic moments are also the most timeless; young love, school troubles, a dose of cod liver oil. Through it all, the family is a warm bastion of love, proof against the storms of the new. The film is told in the compelling voice-over of the aged “Marcel” (Jean-Pierre Darras), and his frequent presence on the soundtrack reminds us that these images of a family’s strength, crystalline and perfect, are in fact a world spoken out of his own memories -- and perhaps, out of his own regrets.

MY MOTHER’S CASTLE is a soothing draught for the soul, like clear, cool spring water drunk under a spreading oak, on a still, overheated midsummer’s day in Provence.

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.