Combustible Celluloid
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With: Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, Orane Demazis, Fernand Charpin, Alida Rouffe, Paul Dullac, Alexandre Mihalesco, Robert Vattier, Édouard Delmont, Auguste Mouriès, Robert Vattier, Marcel Maupi, Milly Mathis, Odette Roger, Louis Boulle
Written by: Marcel Pagnol
Directed by: Alexander Korda, Marc Allégret, Marcel Pagnol
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 438
Date: 04/13/1933

The Fanny Trilogy (1936)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hail Cesar

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As soon as the movies began to talk Marcel Pagnol taught them how to speak. He adapted his successful plays to the screen and created a trilogy beloved by movie fans to this day.

In Marius (1931), Marius (Pierre Fresnay) longs to go to sea, but instead works in his father's waterfront bar in Marseilles. His father, Cesar (Raimu) wants Marius to marry Fanny (Orane Demazis), and indeed the two kids love each other, but Marius cannot deny the pull he feels toward the sea. At the end of the first movie, he joins a crew that will be gone for five years. In Fanny (1932), a pregnant Fanny marries the kindly and wealthy older man Panisse (Charpin). Panisse raises Marius' child as his own, while Cesar plays godfather to his own grandson. Marius returns and realizes that he's made a huge mistake. In Cesar (1936), the true lovers are united for a happy ending.

Though Pagnol directed only the third film -- the first two were by Alexander Korda and Marc Allegret -- they all have his distinctive pulse. But because he came out of theater, the films don't particularly graduate into the realm of cinema; they don't do anything new with the form -- unlike, say, Lubitsch was doing at the same time -- and the pace can get a little slow (the three films together run about 6 hours and 15 minutes). But the dialogue sparkles and the Marseilles setting makes up for innumerable lapses. All of the actors are good, but special credit goes to Raimu, an extraordinary artist who almost literally exposes his very soul up on the screen. His capacity for making the viewer feel happy or heartbroken is unmatched by almost anyone else in history. Indeed, his character should be the least interesting compared to the two lovers, but instead he holds the stories together.

Now Kino Video has released the entire Marius/Fanny/Cesar trilogy in a beautifully designed box set. Each film gets its own disc, and a fourth disc contains the film's extras, notably a 74-minute documentary on the history of the trilogy. Moreover Pagnol himself provides a "commentary" track, recorded well before laserdiscs or DVDs were ever invented (he died in 1974).

Pagnol went on to direct more films, and his stories and plays were rediscovered by a new generation with Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (1987) and My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle (1991).

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