By Richard von Busack
In between the wars in Marseille, young Marius (Pierre Fresnay) is torn between his lover Fanny (Orane Demazis) and his desire to go to sea. The temptation is worse because he lives near the old port, where tall ships sometimes still enter in full sail. When he impregnates Fanny right before finally shipping out, the disgrace rattles the cozy harborside community of fishwives, barkeeps and loungers. Key among them is Marius’ wise but temperamental old dad, Cesar (Raimu). That’s when the well-off Panisse (Fernand Charpin) steps in …
Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy is screening on three subsequent Sundays at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center: Marius (directed by Alexander Korda, 1931), Fanny (directed by Marc Allégret 1932) and César (directed by Pagnol, 1936). The thread can be picked up anywhere, since each piece of this trilogy stands alone. Now after a 4K restoration, the monuments of the town, the Le Pharo lighthouse and the Canebiere are more lambent than ever.
They’re sometimes quaint, as when a tiny trolley, stuffed with passengers and bedecked with tin Pernod signs, slams to a halt because some loafers are playing boules on the tracks. And they’re sometimes very comic. The tang of life in this trilogy was keen enough to inspire Alice Waters to name her restaurant after Mr. Panisse. These French films had more salt and grit than the Hollywood films of the time; the trilogy is as warm as summer, as fragrant as lavender fields and as prickly as the mistral.
Marcel Pagnol’s ‘Marseille Trilogy’ plays April 23, 30 and May 7; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415/454.1222.