Critics Celebrate Marcel Pagnol’s Newly Restored Marseille Trilogy

On Film / Short Takes — Jan 4, 2017

A new 4K restoration of French playwright, filmmaker, and novelist Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille Trilogy is now playing at New York’s Film Forum. Comprised of Alexander Korda’s Marius (1931), Marc Allégret’s Fanny (1932), and Pagnol’s César (1936), this legendary series, produced by the writer himself, spans years in the love story of a cockle monger and a barkeep, whose wanderlust disrupts the pair’s budding relationship. Marked by a bewitching mix of comedy and melodrama, and boasting some of the era’s most beautiful location shooting, these definitive screen incarnations of Pagnol’s much-adapted plays are among the most tender depictions of romantic longing and provincial life in French cinema. Here’s what critics have been saying about the trilogy:

  • In the Village Voice, Farran Smith Nehme praises the way Pagnol “gives the illusion of naturalism through the vivid energy and affection of his characters,” and quotes Bazin as saying: “If Pagnol is not the greatest auteur of the sound film . . . he is in any case something akin to its genius.”
  • Over at Artforum, Nick Pinkerton hails Pagnol as the “grandfather of regionalist filmmaking,” noting that “much of the pleasure of the trilogy comes through [his] attention to the vernacular of his native land.”
  • “As localized as the setting and these people are . . . there is something universal in their thoughts, interactions, and individual tragedies,” writes Jeremy Carr for MUBI Notebook. “Part of why Marius, Fanny, and César are so affecting is because they are so relatable. With no real villain to speak of, and almost seven total hours with which to flesh out the various characters, Pagnol’s narrative foundation encourages the tossing aside of moral judgment with a Renoir-esque acceptance that ‘everyone has their reasons.’ ”
  • For Fandor, Chuck Bowen examines the trilogy’s influence on world cinema: “Various neorealist movements seem unimaginable without Pagnol’s mixture of the artificial and the found, without his interest in turning lower- and middle-class problems into the stuff of operatic tragedy and redemption . . . Pagnol offers a freeing, definitive marriage of cinema and theater, revealing words to be the very manna of our reality.”
  • Update, 1/6/17: “What makes this tragicomic merry-go-round so intoxicating is not its speed or pace (slow and steady),” writes Michael Sragow in Film Comment, “but the beauty of its weather-streaked, hand-carved figures as they chug up and down and come full circle.”

And for a sneak preview of the trilogy and the gorgeous new restoration, take a look at the trailer below: