Pagnol, Marcel

(1895-1974)
   Director, producer, and screen-writer. Born in Aubagne along the southern coast of France, Marcel Pagnol would become one of the writers and filmmakers most closely associated with his native region of Provence. He was the son of a teacher, and despite the fact that his mother did not allow him to read until the age of six, he became an avid reader, interested early in all things literary. He began writing plays at the age of fifteen, and continued to do so through his university studies and his early career as a teacher himself.
   Pagnol abandoned teaching and devoted himself to the theater upon moving to Paris in 1922. He quickly achieved success in the Parisian theater, as his loving regionalism appealed to Parisian audiences. It was in the theater that he cultivated his relationships with many of the actors he would work with in cinema, including Raïmu and Orane Démazis. He was not, at that point, interested in cinema since he had, according to his writings, never been a fan of silent film.
   When sound came to film, however, Pagnol changed his mind. He saw in the sound cinema an opportunity to film the theater and thereby to preserve it and distribute it to a much wider audience. He founded his production company, Films Marcel Pagnol, in 1931, just after the arrival of sound cinema in France. Although Gaumont functioned as the distributor for Pagnol's films, Pagnol created his own production company in order to guarantee the total control he desired in making films.
   Pagnol's first film, Marius (1931), codirected with Alexander Korda, was a direct adaptation of one of his plays and the first in a trilogy. It is probably the only film that attains the standard of filmed play that Pagnol laid out for the cinema. It is shot largely indoors, although there are scenes of the Bay of Marseille that are quite important. There is very little camera movement and no displacement from set to set within a scene. Only in the later film based on this trilogy, César (1936), does this standard break down, and Pagnol moves progressively to the foregrounding of the outdoors, a characteristic for which he became known. The second film in the trilogy, Fanny (1932), was not directed by Pagnol but by Marc Allegret. Pagnol cast Pierre Fresnay in the title role of Marius, alongside Raïmu and Demazis, and the film launched the film careers of all three.
   Pagnol made numerous films during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. They were primarily based on his own writings, including Merlusse (1933), Cigalon (1935), Topaze (1936), César, Le Schpountz (1938), La Fille du puisatier (1940), La Prière aux étoiles (1941), La Belle meunière (1948), the remake of Topaze (1951), which starred Fernandel, and Manon des sources (1953). Alternatively, Pagnol adapted the works of other writers, many associated with Provence. These include Joffroi (1933), Angèle (1934), Regain (1937), and La Femme du boulanger (1938), all adapted from works by Jean Giono; Le Gendre de Monsieur Poirier (1933), adapted from a play by Émile Augier; and Les Lettres de mon moulin (1954), adapted from the works of Alphonse Daudet. He also directed one television film, Le Curé de Cucugnan (1967).
   In addition to his directing, Pagnol also collaborated on a number of films made by other directors. He wrote or collaborated on the screenplays for films such as Roger Lion's Direct au coeur (1932), Roger Richebé's L'Agonie des aigles (1933), Louis J. Gasnier's Topaze (1933), which starred Louis Jouvet, Robert Vernay's Arlette et l'amour (1943), Raymond Leboursier's Naïs (1945), which also stars Jacqueline Pagnol, Jean Boyer's Le Rosier de Madame Husson (1950), and Henri Verneuil's Carnaval (1953). Pagnol produced every film he personally made.
   A number of Pagnol's films were also remade in other languages. In 1933, Mario Almirante made an Italian version of Fanny. Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast adapted Topaze for Hollywood, the same year that Gasnier made his French version. James Whale collaborated with Preston Sturges to make Port of Seven Seas (1938), based on the Marius trilogy. Peter Sellers made Mr. Topaze (1961), based on Topaze, and Joshua Logan made Fanny (1961), starring Leslie Caron, Charles Boyer, and Maurice Chevalier. The Japanese film Umineko no minato (1942) and the Hungarian film Bukfenc (1993) are also based on Pagnol's work. The Hollywood remakes in particular gave Pagnol a great deal of discomfort, as Hollywood actively sought to change the stories to make them conform to the Hollywood censor, which took issue with stories about pregnant, unmarried women. Of course, Pagnol is not Pagnol without the pregnant, unmarried woman.
   Pagnol also wrote a great deal about the cinema, although his critical writings have not had the force or staying power of his filmmaking. Perhaps this is because his theories are often at odds even with his own practice. Despite the fact that Pagnol was almost certainly an auteur in the very sense of the word, he was not, himself, convinced of the existence of such a thing as auteur in the cinema and he never considered himself one, although he retained legendary control over every film he every made. The early auteur theorists, who believed in such a concept, also did not consider Pagnol an auteur, although this is probably because they did not like his films. He advocated quite frequently a theatrical orthodoxy in filmmaking, once postulating that the cinema "should confine itself to photographing theater." This was a practice, however, which he himself progressively rejected. Pagnol was also fairly critical of silent film, although there are certain similarities between his filmmaking and the early efforts of the proponents offilm d'art. He founded the literary journal Les Cahiers du Sud and the film journal Les Cahiers du Film, and it was in the latter that many of his writings on the cinema appear.
   Pagnol has iconic standing in French film history and cultural memory. He was the first filmmaker to become a member of the Académie Française, which says a great deal about his status. He is closely associated with the 1930s, considered the golden age of French cinema, and with the tradition de qualité. He is also linked to French regional identity because of the way in which his films lovingly evoke southern France. In recent years he also became associated with nostalgia, because his films have often been remade into very successful heritage films, which nostalgically evoke a disappeared France. It is perhaps worth noting that most of Pagnol's original films were, themselves, nostalgic, because the world they presented was disappearing even when Pagnol made them. Among the heritage works based on Pagnol's writings or films are Claude Berri's Jean de Florette (1986) and Manon des sources (1986), starring Daneil Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart, Gérard Depardieu, and Yves Montand, and Yves Robert's La Gloire de mon père (1990) and Le Château de ma mère (1990). Gérard Oury also remade Le Schpountz in 1999; however, it is difficult to consider this a heritage work, particularly since Oury cast Smaïn, an actor of North African origin, in the lead. A number of Pagnol's works have also been remade for French television.
   Historical Dictionary of French Cinema by Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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