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