1932 // France // Marc Allégret
Criterion Collection (LINK)
Most of my complaints on Marius (1931) are kind of resolved in it’s sequel Fanny, which I find to be more engaging and compelling in its visual and narrative terms. Still the film retains some of the residue of a “canned theatre”, the prolonged conversations still going around in circle and never straight to the point as one wishes. One can argue that’s the way people talk in reality, but Marcel Pagnol’s dialogues never strikes me as aiming realism (they are too cleverly written), the screenplay of both Marius and Fanny, adapted from the same plays he produced, apparently priorities the “verbal excess” over visual conventions.
The film started by continuing where Marius ended, as Fanny (Orane Demazis) fainted after the boat with her young lover Marius (Pierre Fresnay) onboard left the port for a two-year trip to Austria. The first half of the film focused on the impact of the absence of Marius. César (Raimu), the portside bar owner and Marius’s father, became highly agitated with his friends while being deeply worry of his son’s safety when the letter of his son never arrived, yet due to his own pride, he acted as he never care. This nicely juxtaposed with Marius’s unwillingness to confess his love to Fanny in the first film while being jealously aggressive to Panisse (Fernand Charpin), César’s schoolmates and a newly widower, after Panisse proposed to marry Fanny even he’s 30 years senior.
The friendship between César and his buddies is portrayed more wholeheartedly during the early scenes when they tried to “comfort” César after his son left without notice. Pagnol’s dialogues effortlessly shifted back and forth in between wittiness and bitterness, a heartrendering scenario could suddenly unveiled into a comedic moment. Indeed the situation Fanny facing is a tragedy in its own right, being single and pregnant and the father of the child was miles away at sea. The long lateral tracking shot of the disoriented Fanny wandering in the city after realizing she was pregnant showed that Pagnol, collaborating with another director (Marc Allégret), began to realize the use of camera beyond merely shooting a reproduced play. The scene which ended with Fanny praying in the church asking for God’s forgiveness and blessing is extraordinarily poignant.
The second half of the film concerns how Fanny, César and Panisse came into term of the unborn child and a resultant marriage. It is filled with many verbal and visual gags (say a gunned down “diver”), but what resonated the most is the poignant and authentic observation of human behavior and the optimistism albeit all harms done. Even when Marius eventually showed up at the end in attempt to reclaim his biological son, the film never succumbed to despair or untrust of humanity. It’s noteworthy that Marius can be viewed as an individual film with a self-contained ending, but only after watching Fanny that I could feel the sense of fulfillment of an intact story. Is it a flaw? Perhaps yes in terms of reviewing them individually. Personally I would rather consider it as a two-part film, and apparently Fanny is the indisputable part for satisfaction. Now let’s see how the finale of The Marseille Trilogy could elevate, or dismiss, the achievement.