50 years later, what remains of Pagnol’s glory?

50 years later, what remains of Pagnol’s glory?

“Who would you like to be? – Anyone in the year 2000! » retorted Marcel Pagnol to the journalist Marcel Mithois, in 1964. A response to the image of the writer-filmmaker who, in the 1930s, became totally involved in the 7th art. Because, before writing the three volumes of his Childhood memories, essential bestsellers published at the end of the 1950s, Marcel Pagnol triumphed in the theater as a playwright then, very quickly, put all his strength at the service of the booming cinema. “It was born on February 28, 1895, in the town of Aubagne, the same day when, in La Ciotat (about fifteen kilometers away), the young Lyon engineer Louis Lumière projected for the first time on a screen animated photos. Pagnol will never miss an opportunity to recall this coincidence! » specifies his biographer, Jean-Jacques Jelot-Blanc.

Pioneer of talking cinema

Born under the sign of cinematography, Marcel Pagnol is the first Frenchman to dare to launch into talkies with Marius, in 1931. In this film inhabited by the soul of Provence, Pagnol voices the powerful voices of actors Raimu and Pierre Fresnay. “He will always be a spoken word filmmaker, spending his filming in the sound truck to ensure the accuracy of the lines,” specifies Jean-Jacques Jelot-Blanc.

Very quickly, Marcel Pagnol found his own language, writing dialogues steeped in poetry and humor which are the spice of his work. In 1934, he rose to the box office firmament with Angela, a work in which Fernandel embodies the unforgettable Saturnin. “The public loves him, the exhibitors look for him, the actors dream of shooting for him. (…) Pagnol had a cinema career unlike any other. He enjoyed absolute freedom, taking on all positions in the making of a film, which was unprecedented and will never be repeated for anyone,” writes Karin Hann in Marcel Pagnol, another look.

Not content with being an outstanding screenwriter and dialogue writer, Marcel Pagnol also holds the positions of producer, distributor and cinema owner. In Marseille, he invested in film sets, large laboratories and several cinemas including the Noailles, located a stone's throw from La Canebière. René Clair, Jean Renoir, Jean Cocteau and Sacha Guitry will ask to visit Marcel's Marseille studios and the filming locations located in the Provencal hills, in order to draw inspiration from his know-how. “Between Toulon and Marseille, over a few dozen square kilometers, Marcel Pagnol created an entire world. This small portion of territory is a Hollywood on the Mediterranean, famous throughout the world and which is rooted in our eternal Provence,” enthuses Jean-Jacques Jelot-Blanc.

It is precisely through his respect for the earth and the living that the director of yesterday meets our contemporary concerns. On screen, Pagnol depicts villagers fighting to preserve their resources. “His attachment to the earth, his fight for the value of water and his hymns to all the benefits of nature made him an ecologist before his time”, specifies his biographer. These universal concerns shine brightly in its Childhood memories which, explains Karin Hann, “mark the completion of his career as a playwright and filmmaker, and his great return to writing”. Indeed, from 1957, date of publication of The glory of my father Pagnol will not return to the cinema or the theater.

Legendary replicas

During the following decade, the 7th art moved from craft to industry. Production processes are becoming more complex and their costs are becoming exorbitant. The cinemas are emptying, in competition with television which is gradually establishing itself in French homes. But the glory of Pagnol has survived. Every year, hundreds of tourists come to explore the Garlaban massif to breathe the soul of this timeless author. Because, underlines Jean-Jacques Jelot-Blanc, “nothing has really changed behind the microcosm of these villages, the symbols have remained the same, the town hall, the school, the church and the bistro, the praises of the family , work, life in society, friendship and love”. The replicas of Manon, Fanny, César and other Ugolins have passed the barrier of time. They resonate forever in our memories and in our hearts, far beyond the hills of Provence.

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