Marcel Pagnol: City and Country
February 11 - March 1
“If Pagnol is not the greatest auteur of the sound film, he is in any case something akin to its genius.” — André Bazin
From February 11 through March 1, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents “Marcel Pagnol: City and Country,” featuring the two most famous works associated with the French author/filmmaker.
The first is the “Marseille Trilogy” — MARIUS (1931), FANNY (1932), and CÉSAR (1936) — screening in a new 4K digital restoration from Janus Films and the Cinémathèque Française. The second is the diptych JEAN DE FLORETTE (1986) and MANON OF THE SPRING (1986), directed by Claude Berri from Pagnol’s novels.
Like Jean Cocteau and Sacha Guitry, Pagnol (1895-1974) forged a substantial reputation in both literature and film. After achieving fame as a playwright in the 1920s, he embraced the new medium of talking pictures, controversially declaring the theater to be outmoded and overseeing a successful screen adaptation of his 1929 stage hit "Marius."
MARIUS initiated a trilogy that triumphed on both stage and screen (although the last entry, CÉSAR, was written first for the screen, then adapted for the stage). "Marius" was also the first Pagnol work set in his native Provence (he was born in the town of Aubagne, near Marseille). The distinctive regional flavor of the southern province became the trademark of most of his subsequent work — “as distinctive and enduring a terrain of the imagination as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County” (Stephen Harvey, The New York Times).
In 1934 Pagnol founded a film company in Marseille — La Société des Films Marcel Pagnol — with his own studio, laboratories, distribution company, and stock company of largely local actors, headed by the celebrated Raimu, whom Jean Renoir called “perhaps the greatest French actor of the century.”
Pagnol proceeded to direct eighteen films with predominantly rural Provençal settings — including ANGÈLE (1934), HARVEST (1937), and THE BAKER’S WIFE (1938) — that have been hailed as forerunners of neorealism and independent regional cinema. The great French film critic André Bazin praised Pagnol as an unsung visionary in the development of a realistic cinema that rejected montage in favor of working within the image.
After his death, interest in Pagnol was revived by the tremendous international success of JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON OF THE SPRING. More recently, his enduring legacy can be found in the series of Marseille-set films by director Robert Guédiguian (MARIUS AND JEANNETTE, THE TOWN IS QUIET, etc.), and in the remakes by actor/director Daniel Auteuil of THE WELL-DIGGER’S DAUGHTER, MARIUS, FANNY, and (currently in production) CÉSAR.
— Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming, Gene Siskel Film Center
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called this “one of the screen’s greatest trilogies,” ranking alongside Satyajit Ray’s "Apu" cycle and Masaki Kobayashi’s "The Human Condition."
The main setting is the Bar de la Marine on the Marseille waterfront, owned by the gruff but generous widower César (Raimu). The bar is tended by his son Marius (played by Pierre Fresnay with a tiger-in-the cage virility that anticipates Brando), who yearns for a life of adventure on one of the sailing ships that beckon from the harbor just beyond the bar’s beaded-curtain entrance.
The vivacious Fanny (Orane Demazis), who peddles shellfish from a stand outside the bar, has been madly in love with Marius since childhood, but she faces a formidable obstacle in his macho reserve and a powerful rival in the siren call of the sea. Complicating matters is the wealthy, childless Panisse (Fernand Charpin), recently widowed and on the lookout for a young wife to provide a son and heir to his sail-making business.
From these ingredients, Pagnol spins a twenty-year saga of awakening love, fatal misunderstandings, separation, shame, unexpected generosity, inconsolable regrets, attempted reconciliation, father-son discord, exile, and return — filled with humor and heartbreak, and enriched by a gallery of unforgettable characters steeped in the patois and panache of Provence.
The trilogy’s breezy naturalism is enhanced by a sexual candor and relaxed morality strictly off-limits to American movies of the era. The three films have distinctive personalities — MARIUS intense and atmospheric, FANNY airier and more wide-ranging, CÉSAR the most philosophical — but all are unified by the superb cast and by Pagnol’s unique brand of salty, soulful humanism. In French with English subtitles. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
Pagnol directed an unsuccessful version of MANON OF THE SPRING in 1952, then turned it into a two-volume novel, with substantial additions and changes, under the collective title "L’Eau des collines" ("The Water of the Hills," 1963). In 1986, veteran director Berri (THE TWO OF US) filmed the two parts simultaneously. Released as JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON OF THE SPRING, the films were an international triumph and stand as Berri’s greatest achievement.
Set in the gorgeously photographed Provençal countryside, JEAN DE FLORETTE (WATCH TRAILER) begins with two dreams that merge into a evil scheme. César (Montand, in his last great performance) is a crafty landowner who wants to carry on the family name through his only surviving relative — his nephew Ugolin (Auteuil, recipient of a César award for best supporting actor), a scrawny striver whose dream is to raise carnations. Carnations are profitable but need a lot of water — a problem that could be solved by a little-known spring on an adjoining plot of land. Unfortunately for them, that land has recently been inherited by Jean (Depardieu), a city-dweller who arrives with his wife and small daughter, bursting with idealistic plans to return to nature and raise rabbits through scientific means. Naïve but dogged, Jean struggles valiantly to succeed, but the machinations of the two schemers (who secretly block up the spring), the treacherous helping hand offered by Ugolin, the hostility of the locals toward outsiders, and Nature itself (in the form of a severe drought) conspire against him — all under the gaze of his watchful daughter, Manon…
MANON OF THE SPRING (WATCH TRAILER) takes up the story some ten years later, with grown-up Manon (Béart, recipient of a César award for best supporting actress), wild and beautiful, now one of the central characters. This second part is a tale of revenge, revelation, and cosmic payback about which it is best not to reveal too much. A model of superb, carefully constructed storytelling, the two films were co-scripted by frequent Roman Polanski collaborator Gerard Brach (REPULSION, THE TENANT), who no doubt helped to keep the edge in Pagnol’s rural tragedy. Make no mistake — this is not a exercise in cozy bucolic sentimentality. At its heart is a struggle over property and water as compellingly ruthless as that of CHINATOWN, with a comparably devastating ending. (MR)