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New Release Review - Marius / Fanny

The first two parts of Daniel Auteil's remake of Marcel Pagnol's thirties film trilogy.

Directed by: Daniel Auteil
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Raphael Personnaz, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Victoire Bélézy, Marie-Anne Chazel


Marius (Personnaz) is growing tired of his life serving drinks at the seafront bar of his father Cesar (Auteuil). Captivated by the tales he hears from visiting sailors, he longs to escape Marseille for a life at sea. He's torn however by his love for Fanny (Bélézy), a beautiful young girl who has longed to become his wife since the days of their childhood friendship. Fanny convinces Marius to give up his sea-faring ambitions and devote his attentions to her, but she becomes increasingly worried by the idea that his resentment towards her actions will haunt their relationship.
As an actor, Daniel Auteuil came to the attention of the world through his role in the 1986 duology Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, a two part saga based on the novels of Marcel Pagnol, who had previously filmed the story himself in 1952. Auteuil clearly feels he owes a debt to Pagnol as he adapted the writer's novel The Well-Digger's Daughter for his directorial debut a couple of years ago. Now he turns to Pagnol's best known work, The Marseille Trilogy, originally filmed by Pagnol back in the thirties.
A playwright turned film-maker, Pagnol's films were the sort of dialogue heavy, stagebound movies that the French New Wave rallied against and Auteuil's remakes carry on in similar fashion. The first of the trilogy, Marius, opens with an impressive tracking shot through the bustling Marseille port but any concession to cinematic film-making ends there. The rest of these two initial films resemble a "filmed before a live studio audience" sitcom. You'd expect a laugh track but the humor on display is so outdated it's hard to imagine anyone under the age of 60 finding any of this amusing. Themes that may have shocked audiences in the thirties (sex out of wedlock, teen pregnancy) simply don't carry any dramatic weight in 2013.
It may have very Gallic origins, but Pagnol's trilogy has more in common with the British vaudeville tradition. It's the sort of production you see mounted in church halls, as it's guaranteed not to offend the elderly ladies whose ticket fees are going towards having the church roof seen to. Every note of characterization and exposition is told through dialogue. This is anti-cinema at its worst, a movie for people who don't like movies.
The decision to split the story into a trilogy seems like a purely cynical move but it's difficult to imagine anyone returning for the second movie, Fanny, after experiencing the inanity of the first. The final part of the tale, Cesar, is currently in production, meaning this will amount to almost five hours of tedium in the end. Director James Whale and screenwriter Preston Sturges managed to tell the same tale in a brisk 80 minutes with their 1938 adaptation Port of Seven Seas. If you really have to see a version of this dull and dated soap opera I suggest you opt for that one instead, as it's made by people who understand and appreciate cinema.
3/10



Eric Hillis

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