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(French, 1931, 125 minutes, b/w, video)

Directed by Alexander Korda

Written and based on the play by Marcel Pagnol
In French with English subtitles

Raimu……….César Olivier
Pierre Fresnay……….Marius
Orane Demazis……….Fanny
Fernand Charpin……….Honoré Panisse
Alida Rouffe……….Honorine Cabanis

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:

No other work of the French cinema is as genuinely loved as Marcel Pagnol's "Marius Trilogy," completed between 1931 and 1936. Pagnol's story of a Marseilles fish seller, Fanny, who loves Marius, a bartender with his eye on a life at sea, and Cesar, Marius' stern father, is as simple and basically melodramatic a tale as the cinema has ever offered. Even Pagnol said "I only write about clichés." And yet, if cliches are so because they are familiar, Pagnol's cinema is familiar as those old, holey tennis shoes you use for gardening, and as comfortable as a well-worn pair of jeans. The lives of these very ordinary people, their quiet ambitions and their grand passions, are as well-known to us as our own families. France has produced its share of filmmakers whose work was international in scope and emphatically visual in nature, its Jean Cocteaus, Rene Clairs, Abel Gances, and its Jean-Luc Godards, but it was Pagnol, the proud provincial, the writer who disdained directing, who was among the very first filmmakers enshrined in the Academie Francaise. In the process, Pagnol forged an extraordinary link between the French theater and its unique tragi-comic traditions, and the younger art of the cinema.

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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