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|Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974)|
French film director and playwright, founder of the magazines Les Cahiers du Sud and Les Cahiers du Film, the first filmmaker elected to the Académie France. Pagnol is perhaps best-known for his Marseille trilogy - Marius (perf. 1929), Fanny (perf. 1931, pub. 1932) and César (1936, pub. 1937) - the last part of which was first made into a film and not reworked into play until 1946. An American musical adaptation of the entire cycle was produced as Fanny in 1955.
"The dramatist's style lies in his choice of characters, in the feelings he gives them, in the development of the plot. His personal position is modest: he must hold his tongue! As soon as he wants to make his own voice heard, the dramatic movement stops. He musn't leave his place in the wings; his opinions, when expressed by himself, are of no concern to us. His actors speak to us for him, and they impose his thought and emotions on us by making us believe they are ours." (from My Father's Glory, 1957)
Marcel Pagnol was born in Aubagne, the son of Joseph Pagnol, a teacher, and Augustine Lansot, a seamstress. The family descended from Spanish swordsmiths who had fled from Toledo during the Inquisition. When Pagnol was three, the family moved to Saint-Loup near Marseilles, where his father was appointed as a regular teacher at the school in the Chemin des Chartreux, the biggest elementary school in Marseilles.
Pagnol grew up in Marseille with his younger brothers Paul, René, and younger sister Germaine. He learned to read at an early age, but until the age of six he was not allowed to open a book, "for fear of cerebral explosion," as his mother believed could happen. His first play Pagnol wrote for a local group when he was only 15. While studying at the University of Aix-en-Provence, he helped found a student literary magazine, Fantasio, in 1913. Renamed Les cahiers du Sud, it was to become one of the most influential literary magazines of the century. The magazine published Pagnol's early poetry, a novel, La Petite Fille aux yeux sombres (1921, The Little Girl With The Dark Eyes), and his play Catulle (1922). In the footsteps of his father, Pagnol worked as an English teacher at various secondary schools at Pamiers, Aix-en-Provence, and Marseilles.
With his close friend Léon Voltera, who owned Théâtre de Paris, he visited Casino de Paris to find a suitable wife from the dance girls. Pagnol's dramas and films often dealt with the theme of the unmarried mother and the illegitimate child, but basically he did not challenge patriarchal norms and clichés of his times. In 1916, Pagnol married his first wife Simone Collin; they had two sons and a daughter. Pagnol was separated from Simone since 1926; she was very religious and did not want a divorce.
When Pagnol was assigned in 1922 to a school in Paris, he abandoned his teaching post at the famous Lycée Condorcet and devoted himself to writing plays. "Paris, which I imagined as an anthill in the rain, scared me," he once said. Together with Paul Nivoix, a Marseillais friend, Pagnol wrote the play Les Mechands de Gloire (1924, Merchants of Glory), a satire on civilian profiteers who exploit the heroism of soldiers, which gained a small success. It was followed by Jazz (1926), first performed in the Grand Théâtre of Monte Carlo and then in Paris at the Théâtre des Arts, with Orane Demazis, Pierre Blanchard and Harry Baur in the major roles.
Pagnol's international reputation was established with Topaze (1928). This examination of a naïve schoolteacher dominated by desire for money has been filmed several times. First staged in Paris, Théâtre des Variétés, October 11, 1928, it ran there for two years. "I heard Molière and Marivaux applaud in the background," said one critic. In the story Topaze loses his teaching position when he do not raise the grades of one of his wealthy students. He finds work as tutor in the home of Suzy Courtois, the mistress of a dishonest local politician Régis Castel-Bénac. Topaze is cheated to sign an obscure business paper, one of Régis's deals, but is persuaded to remain silent. Since the business is legally in Topaze's name, he decides to run it for his own profit. Suzy starts to admire him: cynicism is the only attitude possible in the world ruled by money.
In 1923 Pagnol met Orane Demazis (real name Marie-Louise Burgard); they had a son in 1933 and parted ways soon after. Orane played the role of Cécile in Jazz. With Kitty Murphy, a young English dancer, Pagnol had a son in 1930. Yvonne Pouperon, who worked for his studios, gave him a daughter. During the war years, Pagnol lived for some time with Josette Day in La Buzine, a small 19th-century mansion, which he had bought in 1941. Josette played with Raimu and Fernandel in La fille du puisatier (1940, The Well-Digger's Daughter). After divorce Pagnol re-married in 1945 the actress Jacqueline Bouvier; they had two children together, Frédérick (born 1946) and Estelle, who died at the age of two.
Pagnol saw his first talking picture in 1930 and stated some years later that the cinema "should confine itself to photographing theater." But he also understood the potentialities of the cinema: "The art of theater is being revived in another form and will begin to enjoy an unprecedented success... A new field is opening up for the playwright and we shall start to see productions which not even Sophocles, Racine, or Molière could have dared to attempt." After gaining renown as a playwright, Pagnol set up for his second film his own production company, La société des films Marcel Pagnol, releasing films through Gaumont. In addition to adapting his own plays and screenplays to the screen, Pagnol made films based on texts by two other Provence writers. From Jean Giono's novels he made three movies: Angèle (1934), based on Un de Baumugnes, Regain (1937), and La Femme du boulanger (1938), starring the legandary actor Raimu. Adapted from Jean le Bleu, it received an American Oscar for best foreign film. The lady of the title, played by Ginette Leclerc, has gone off with a young man. Her husband, a baker, played by Raimu, goes on strike. When his wife returns home, he forgives her.
Pagnol often cooperated in film projects, which were directed by others, including Alexander Korda's Marius (1930), Marc Allégret's Fanny (1932), Louis Gasnier's Topaze (1932; second version in 1933, directed by Harry d'Abbabie d'Arrast, script by Ben Hecht; third film adaptation in 1961, directed by Peter Sellers), James Whale's Port of Seven Seas (1938, based on Fanny, script by Preston Sturges), and Joshua Logan's Fanny (1961). In Hollywood Universal had acquired the rights to make an English version of Fanny already in the early 1930s. Carl Laemmle Jr. made the picture his pet project. Preston Sturges's script was faithful to the spirit of the story, but he also had to bring it within censorship requirements. In the story a woman marries one man while pregnant with another man's child. Pagnol become worried and asked questions about ownership of the rights. And the director William Wyler had problems in finding the right actor to play César, the male lead. Henry Henigson continued with the film project and triend to arrange a deal with Ernst Lubitsch, without success. Later Wyler tried to buy Fanny from Pagnol but the film was not made until Joshua Logan produced and directed it, starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer.
Claude Berri's films Jean de Florette (1986) and Manon des Sources were successful film adaptations of Pagnol's Provencal family story, dealing with creed, betrayal, and revenge. Gerard Depardieu played a hunchback, Jean de Florette, who has inherited a farm. His wealthy neighbors, Papet (Yves Montand) and Ugolin, his nephew (Daniel Auteuil, plot against Jean. In the second part of the story Ugolin falls in love with Manon (Emmanuelle Beart) who is Jean's daughter.
"CÉSAR: You know, Marius, a woman's honor is like a match. You can only use it once." (Charles Boyer in Fanny, 1961)
While Pagnol was making La fille du puisatier in Nice, the German army conquered France. Pagnol accommodated to varying degreees the demands of the Vichy regime. Following the liberation of France, Marshal Pétain's radio announcement of the end of hostilities in the film was replaced by General de Gaulle's radio speech. This version was warmly welcomed by British and American audiences after the war, but in France it was said, that Pagnol had told this particular story too often - about a pregnant girl and her angry father. Daniel Auteuil's new version of The Well-Digger's Daughter from 2011 received mostly good reviews. "You will need a slightly sweet tooth for this movie, as the ending is a little saccharine – but it is well made and well acted throughout," wrote Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian (8 December, 2011).
Pagnol was primarily concerned with a poetic or picturesque interpretation of what is real. He wrote with affection about the people of Provence, their dreams and their fears. In his film he used natural settings of the city, harbor, and the countryside as a background. His Marseilles trilogy in particular illustrated the temperament typical of the south of France. The story is set against the colorful milieu of the Vieux Port, Old Port, of Marseilles. Marius has always dreamed of "far islands beneath the wind" and leaves Fanny to go to sea. When he returns, Fanny has married the elderly and kindly Panisse, for the sake of her and Marius' child, César. Twenty years later, after the death of Panisse, Marius and Fanny are reunited by their son.
"HONORINE: My poor Panisse. Nightgowns have no pockets. I'm speaking for your own good. Have you ever thought about what sometimes happens, when an old man marries a young girl?" (Georgette Anys in Joshua Logan's film Fanny, based on Pagnol's text)
After the war Pagnol made La Belle Meunière (1948), based on the life of Franz Schubert, and some other productions at his modern studios near Marseilles. In 1946 he was elected to the French Academy. Manon des sources and Jean de Florette were written into a novel entitled L'Eau des Collines (1963, The Water of the Hills). From Alphonse Daudet's (1840-1897) Lettres de mon moulin Pagnol chose three episodes for a film (1954). With Daudet he also shared delight in windmills. He even acquired one at Ignières (Normandy) in the 1920s a, living there with Kitty Murphy.
During the heyday of the politique d'auteurs, the so-called auteur theory, young filmmaker rejected established criteria of cinematic merit, and among others Pagnol's work, which they considered cinematically barren. One of their heroes was Jean Renoir, who had directed for Pagnol some scenes in the 1930s. Pagnol had helped Renoir with dialogue - it was the strongest element in his films. Pagnol's later plays include Judas (1955), which ran successfully until Raymond Pellegrin in the role of Judas was stricken with appendicitis and the play stopped. Fabien (1956) was a cynical account of Parisian mores. Pagnol's autobiography, Souvenirs d'enfance (4 vols.), was published in 1957-77.
The first volume, La Gloire de mon père (My Father’s Glory), was a praise of the author's father. The good-humored story tells about Joseph Pagnol and his arrogant brother-in-law, Jules, who rent a summer cottage and go hunting. In this trip the young Marcel witnesses his father's victory over Jules. Le Château de ma mère (1958, My Mother’s Castle) continued Pagnol's memoirs. The books were later filmed by Yves Robert. In the third volume Pagnol wrote about his school years and summer vacations. The final volume, Le Temps des Amours (1977, The Time of Love), was left unfinished, and appeared posthumously. Pagnol died in Paris on April 18, 1974.
For further reading: The Literature of Provence: An Introduction by Daniel Vitaglione (2000); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Pagnol's Provence by Julian More and Carey More (1996); Il était une fois Marce Pagnol by R. Castans (1978); Marcel Pagnol by C. E. J. Caldicott (1977); Marcel Pagnol, enfant d'Aubagne et de la Treille by G. Berni (1975); Marcel Pagnol by C. Beylie (1974); Le jardin de Pagnol by I. Combaluzier (1937) - Note: Claude Berri's films Jean de Florette (1986) starring Yves Montand, Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteil, and Manon des Sources (1987), starring Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Beart, were based on Pagnol's portrayals of Provence.
Selected works (films, plays, autobiographical works, screenplays):