With la Trilogie marseillaise, actor and director Daniel Auteuil pays tribute to Marcel Pagnol and his colourful cast of Provençal characters.
There is no denying that famed actor Daniel Auteuil’s career is closely linked to Marcel Pagnol’s timeless oeuvre. The actor from Avignon, in the heart of Provence, shot to fame playing the love-struck Ugolin in Claude Berry’s 2006 renditions of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources – Auteuil’s performance in the two films earned him a César (the French equivalent to an Oscar) – and for his directorial debut in 2011, he chose to adapt another one of Pagnol’s works, the lesser known, La Fille du Puisatier (The Well-Digger’s Daughter). So it comes as no surprise that for his second foray into directing, he once again turned to the Provençal author’s rich repertoire.
However, this time the task is particularly arduous as he is reviving on screen the famous Marseille trilogy: Marius, Fanny et César, originally adapted by the author himself in the 1930’s and considered by many critics a masterpiece of French cinema! The first two installments, which were shot partly in Paris and partly on location, have opened simultaneously this month while the last one should be released in December.
Choosing conformity over originality, the actor-turned director has tried to be as faithful to the text as possible and if the final result does not break any new ground, it does a good job in recapturing the beauty of Provence, the exhuberance of his colourful characters and the classically structured plot.
Helped by some great performances from his main actors, the sun-drenched Marseillais accent, beautiful scenery and a catchy score by Alexandre Desplat, the story takes place at the Bar de la Marine, in the old port of Marseille, where Marius (Raphaël Personnaz), the son of the owner, César (played by Auteuil himself), is torn between his desire to sail away on a merchant ship and his love for 18-year old shellfish seller Fanny (Victoire Belezy).
When Marius finally decides to embark on a five-year voyage, Fanny discovers that she is pregnant and has no other choice to avoid the disgrace of being a single-mother than to marry local factory owner, Panisse (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a good-hearted man more than twice her age, willing to sacrifice his dignity in order to prolong the family name. When a few months after the birth of the child, Marius comes back, and reason will have to prevail over feelings!
This may all sound very melodramatic and soapy but despite the old-fashioned storyline, this beautiful love story still entertains and moves audiences more than 80 years later with its tender moments, playful humour and lovable Mediterranean characters.
Lead image courtesy Allociné; © Pathé Distribution