César Screen 97 of 8 reviews

César

1936

César Poster
  • The three films are subtly different... Pagnol’s capper is relatively spartan, more trusting of our investment in the characters, and given the twenty-year narrative gap that separates it from the other movies, older-feeling, as if our shared involvement with César, Marius, Fanny, Panisse, and Césariot must slow down with the characters’ aging metabolisms.

  • The “girl woos boy, girl loses boy” plot at the center of Marius (1931), Fanny (1932), and César (1936), playwright-turned-filmmaker Marcel Pagnol’s seriocomic Marseille Trilogy, is the steam engine that drives a marvelous old-school carousel. What makes this tragicomic merry-go-round so intoxicating is not its speed or pace (slow and steady), but the beauty of its weather-streaked, hand-carved figures as they chug up and down and come full circle.

  • Much of the pleasure of the Trilogy comes through Pagnol’s attention to the vernacular of his native land—not just the salty, epigrammatic humor, but the semaphore-like language of gesture that accompanies and massages the cadence of speech, snapping at crescendos with a conductor’s flourish. Pagnol cultivated his own stock company, many of them, like Raimu or Charpin, plucked from the music halls of the south, and each performer gives their character a distinct personal lexicon.

  • Pagnol is the auteur throughout, providing the series a sense of texture that’s so hyperreal it’s surreal. This Marseille is vast in its smallness, in the sense one has of being able to navigate the city merely by watching these films.

  • Certainly the Marseille trilogy doesn't have much in the way of flashy film technique, but that doesn't mean these three films are uncinematic. Numerous scenes are filmed outdoors, to take advantage of the uniquely beautiful light in southern France. (Pagnol eventually opened his own small studio in Marseille.) To fill bit parts, Pagnol often utilized locals pulled right off the street. That sense of place is essential.

  • 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.” While occasionally melodramatic and at times nearly violent, the acrimony is almost always understandable.

  • The final entry (1933) in the Fanny trilogy, this one directed by the creator of the cycle, Marcel Pagnol, and distinguished even more than the first two installments by his incredibly robust and healthy-spirited approach.

  • The trilogy's greatest product is César, whose psychological complexity unravels as he's forced to confront that he may be responsible for Marius's abandonment of a pregnant Fanny at the conclusion of the first film. As played by Raimu, he's a man of expressions, scoffs, and faulty but affectionate logic.

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