Since the 1930s, the playwright and film-maker Marcel Pagnol has exerted considerable influence over the French movieverse.
It seems only fitting that actor-turned-director Daniel Auteuil, who shot to international prominence as the star of the lush Pagnol films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, is the master's latest champion. Following on from Auteuil's recent adaptation of The Well Digger's Daughter, this first instalment of Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy resurrects a sequence of hits from the 1930s.
Auteuil stars as Cesar, a bar owner at Marseilles’ bustling Old Port. His grown up son, Marius (Raphael Personnaz), is half in love with the sea and half in love with a teenage shellfish seller Fanny (Victoire Belezy). The trapped young man dreams of life as a sailor while his dad tries, in vain, to prepare him for life in a café bar.
Marius, released here next week simultaneously with Fanny, the second instalment of the trilogy, is a gentle heritage drama. The film's shallow sets and backdrops are calculated to evoke the golden, sound-stage age of French cinema, specifically Jean Vigo's L'Atalante and Alexander Korda's 1931 adaptation of the same material. Auteuil's version is professional, respectful, folksy and safe. Settle in: this is a film of card games and long drinks and wine and clam lunches.
Where Auteuil does deviate from the original is in his turn as Cesar. Where Raimu was stern in the role, Auteuil is softly paternal. It makes Marius’s dream of travel that bit trickier to justify. In turn, Fanny’s late rouse is completely wrenching.
Be warned: the tragic cycle is just oiling up.