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Post Marcel Pagnol, Filmmaker, 1895-1974
Created by John Eipper on 04/19/19 4:27 AM

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Marcel Pagnol, Filmmaker, 1895-1974 (Patrick Mears, Germany, 04/19/19 4:27 am)

Although he is almost forgotten today, I would like to direct WAISers' attention to Marcel Pagnol, the French author, playwright and filmmaker, who passed away 45 years ago yesterday (April 18th) in Paris.

The main body of Pagnol's work was produced in the 1930s and 1940s, although he remained engaged in his art well beyond that period. He is probably best known for his "Fanny Trilogy" of films produced in the early 1930s, which consisted of Marius (1931), Fanny (1932), and Cesar (1936), about members of a family who lived in the Old Port of Marseille and their hopes, fears and struggles. Pagnol is also well-known for the films directed by Claude Berri, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, which are based on Pagnol's two-volume novel, L'Eau des Collines. He also authored partial autobiographies titled La Gloire de mon père and Le chateau de ma mère, both of which are beautifully written and were transferred to the silver screen by director Yves Robert in 1990.

Pagnol was born in 1895 in Aubagne, directly east of Marseille. His father was a schoolteacher in Marseille and his mother a seamstress. She died of a chest ailment in 1910 at age 36. During Pagnol's childhood, the family would rent a small cottage just outside of Marseille in the small village of La Treille. Those were idyllic times for Marcel, who would incorporate many of his childhood experiences into his literary creations. After a short stint in the French Army during World War I, he taught English in and around Marseille and then eventually tried his hand at being a playwright. With the advent of sound in films, he transferred his talents to this new medium, with his first film being Marius directed by Alexander Korda. From there, his career skyrocketed, with its apex being his election to the Académie francaise in 1946--the first filmmaker to enter this French institution.

Pagnol's style as a filmmaker is well-described in this section of his Wikipedia biography:

"In his films, Pagnol transfers his playwriting talents onto the big screen. His editing style is somberly reserved, placing emphasis on the content of an image. As a pictorial naturalist, Pagnol relies on film as art to convey a deeper meaning rather than solely as a tool to tell a story. Pagnol also took great care in the type of actors he employed, hiring local actors to appear in his films to highlight their unique accents and culture. Like his plays, Pagnol's films emphasize dialogue and musicality. The themes of many of Pagnol's films revolve around the acute observation of social rituals. Using interchangeable symbols and recurring character roles, such as proud fathers and rebellious children, Pagnol illuminates the provincial life of the lower class. Notably, Pagnol also frequently compares women and land, showing both can be barren or fertile. Above all, Pagnol uses all this to illustrate the importance of human bonds and their renewal."

My introduction to Pagnol and his works happened unwittingly. During a family vacation to New York City in the summer of 1961, we took in the 1961 production of Fanny at Radio City Music Hall. This was reprised when we were planning our vacation in the summer of 1998 to Provence, where we stayed with friends in their restored mas just outside of Carpentras. While researching Provence, I came across many references to Pagnol and his works and began to watch his films on video cassette, which led to reading his literary works, including the autobiographies mentioned above. With that in mind, after visiting Daudet's Windmill, some of whose short stories found their way into Pagnol's final film, the Old Port in Marseille and its famous Bar de la Marine, we drove to the small village of Treille, where Pagnol's remains are interred in the small village cemetery.

The anniversary of Pagnol's death is marked by this article in the online Le Figaro. http://www.lefigaro.fr/histoire/archives/2015/02/27/26010-20150227ARTFIG00321-pagnol-en-1930-le-cinema-parlant-va-mettre-en-danger-le-theatre.php .

Here is the link to Pagnol's official website.

https://www.marcel-pagnol.com/fr/ .

JE comments:  Pat, it's the "WAIS Effect" again.  Before I read your e-mail yesterday, I was thinking about Jean de Florette--namely, how the film could never be made in Michigan, because it rains here constantly.  (JdF is about a farmer coping with drought.)

How can that be?  I saw the film when it came out 30 years ago, and haven't thought much about it since.  Unheimlich...

Either way, rains are expected at WAIS HQ through Thursday.

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  • Gary Moore on the "Unheimlich" (John Eipper, USA 04/27/19 3:54 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Our esteemed moderator's word for the day (actually a few days ago, April 19,
    responding serendipitously, synchronistically to Patrick Mears' wonderful
    look at French fimmaker Pagnol)--that word is "unheimlich."

    This German parsing of "uncanny" reminds that, in fact, all our daily concerns
    and political shouting tend to skate on top of a vastness we don't know, but
    which periodically sends us pesky, almost whimsical reminders that the vastness
    is no fairy tale. It's simply beyond our present knowledge. The ancient villagers
    look at the volcano and think gods. And we, smug in our knowledge of plate tectonics,
    are really still them. "Uncanny," or "not canny," means "not within our ken."
    Our not knowing what to make of the volcano doesn't make it not there.

    And all the wrong guesses and superstitions and dogmas don't make it not there either.

    JE comments:  So there's just enough of the unheimlich to make even the positivists among us believe that a structure or order is out there, somewhere.  Freud defines the uncanny as finding strangeness in the ordinary.  Can anyone give us a quick parse of his essay Das Unheimliche?  I have somehow, uncannily, never gotten around to reading it.

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