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The Pagnol Trilogy: Fanny

At the Telepix through Wednesday

By Jonathan R. Walton

It all depends on how much you like drama. Drama entirely for its own sake--no message, no symbolism, no social criticism, nothing that the contemporary intelligentsia has come to expect on foreign films.

Marcel Pagnol's classic trilogy (1932-33) is something unusual in any medium, but most unusual for the screen: it is a pure, self-justifying work of art. Marius, Fanny,and Cesar run a total of six hours, but are normally shown, as at the Telelix, one at a time. It depends, therefore, wholly on whether you can sit still for two hours and relax.

If you can, get into Boston right away and see what's left of the Trilogy. Marius is gone, but Fanny is playing until Wednesday and Cesar is coming next week. The three form a direct sequence, but each is reasonably self-contained, so that seeing just one is better than missing all three.

It is difficult to discuss Fanny in anything but theatrical terms. Filmed in 1932 from Pagnol's play, which was produced the winter before in Paris, Fanny subordinates everything technical to the story, and employs no particularly startling use of camera or sound. Vincent Scotto's music is unobtrusive and appropriate. The film's beauty rests in the simplicity of its plot, and in its sensitive character sketches.

It is therefore that most trying of all cinematic tasks, a filmed play, and must stand or fall with the quality of its drama. To say that it stands is merely to repeat what critics have said for 30 years, and that it's as good now as 30 years ago.

A rapid outline of the plot will suffice. Marius, the son of a Marseilles barkeeper, sails for Australia at the end of the first film of the Trilogy, which bears his name. He leaves behind two that love him, his father Cesar and his perhaps finance, Fanny. When Fanny discovers that he has left behind an embryonic heir as well, she turns to the childless widower, Panisse, whose previous proposals have been refused because of his age. The marriage goes through, over Cesar's protests, and seven months later the baby is born. All is tranquil until the sudden return of Marius, the climax of the film.

More thany anything else, Fanny is a vehicle for Raimu, as Cesar, but that may be by default for Orane Demazis' Fanny is wooden and not really believable; Pierre Fresnay as Marius is stilted and a bit constipated. This leaves the screen to the senior trio--Raimu, Charpin as Panisse, and the brilliant Alida Rouffe as Fanny's mother. These three hams sport around the screen, indulging in every kind of histrionics: uproarious and tragic by turn, they are spellbinding and immensely warm. But Raimu best of all explores the depths of Cesar. Pagnol and the actor join hands to create a gruff, overbearing, and thoroughly vulnerable character.

It would be criminal to begrudge Charpin his paragraph. Particularly in his long scene with Fanny, when he relates his longing for a son ("See how the letters on the sign above my shop are all pushed over to the left, with nothing but blank space on the right? 'H. Panisse,' it says." He reaches into a drawer and pulls out five signletters. "These have been waiting for 30 years: this is F, this is I, this is L, this is S, this is &. Panisse & Fils."), draws out the full scope of Pagnol's script.

Comedy is used in Fanny, as in Marius, only for highlight, with little or nothing by way of ulterior motive. Laughter keeps the drama from becoming maudlin at those points where the story approaches such a danger.

This, by the way, is your last chance for about a decade. Joshua Logan is filming a new Fanny, following the New York stage version of several years ago--with music. The Trilogy is being withdrawn until 1971, so see it while you can.

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