Criterion 3-disc box set sports a number of supplements across them. The first disc, which features Marius, starts off with an introduction by director Bertrand Tavernier. The 20-minute discussion can be a bit dry but he explains the background to Pagnol’s plays and then the eventual film adaptations (though César was written exclusively for the screen). From here he talks a bit about Pagnol’s excitement over the film medium, at least when sound finally became a reality (and he was no longer limited by a stage) and talks a bit about the more cinematic elements found in the film versions.
Marcel Pagnol’s grandson Nicolas Pagnol next discusses the films and the process of restoring them. He also shares various stories about his grandfather, who was apparently quite good at charming his way through things (he was called a “charming liar”) and then shares stories about the productions of the films and then other stories about the films’ star, Raimu. Tavernier touches somewhat on these things but Pagnol expands on these items and proves to be a more interesting subject. It runs about 30-minutes.
Brett Bowles, associate professor of French film studies at Indiana University, next offers a visual essay on Pagnol’s Poetic Realism, examining the look of each film and how more cinematic each one became, with Fanny taking on a rather complex tracking shot (a little rough around the edges mind you) that could be seen as a precursor to the French New Wave, and then César’s more complex camerawork. He also looks at the successes of each film (César being one of the most anticipated films of the time) before going over the remakes and newer stage adaptations. It proves to be one of the more fascinating features in the entire set, though one should be warned that there are spoilers galore for each of the films so I recommend watching it after having seen each film.
A theatrical trailer for the Janus Films release of the new restorations then closes off the disc.
The second disc, which features Fanny, only comes with one significant supplement, though it’s a good one and probably the set’s best feature: an episode and a half from the 6-part television documentary series made for French television in 1973, Marcel Pagnol: Morceaux Choisis. Criterion has chosen segments specific to the Marseille Trilogy, which includes all of episode 3 (running about 58-minutes) and then 27-minutes from episode 4.
The first episode, featuring a number of extensive interviews with Pagnol, his friends, and peers, focuses primarily on Marius and its origins as a play and then the playwright’s desire to adapt the play for film after he discovered sound film had become an reality. This led him to declare the theater dead and that he should focus on film, much to the chagrin of his fellow writers. There’s also a great amount of detail about the process that went into getting Marius the film made, Pagnol working hard on the executives at Paramount to convince them to make it. This is an especially fascinating segment, Pagnol, as his grandson suggested in his feature on Marius, proving to be an especially charming fellow.
The excerpt we get from the second episode then moves on to Fanny and César, which Pagnol had made after setting up his own studio, getting the rights back from Paramount, and we get details about the inner-workings of his studio. Pagnol then talks in more detail about his love for film and his preference of it over the stage, and also how he was an early pusher for sound cinema and the resistance he faced from various silent filmmakers, particularly Rene Clair. Interestingly, Clair actually appears here as well (amusingly he admits that despite his objection to sound cinema and his spat with Pagnol, he was eventually won over after seeing a number of American sound films). It’s a solid segment as well and it’s disappointing to not get the entire series, or at least the whole fourth episode, but I understand Criterion’s limiting it to just the portions covering the trilogy.
The third disc, which features César, ends up presenting the shortest batch of supplements, relying more on archival material. A 1967 4-minutee interview segment from French television about actor Orane Demazis opens the supplements here, Demazis recalling her work on Marius and working with Raimu. Criterion also digs up a 7-minute television segment featuring actor Pierre Fresnay talking about Raimu, the man and the actor, on the 10th anniversary of his death, with nothing but fond things to say about the man (other supplements mention how Raimu was unimpressed with Fresnay at first, but there is no sign or mention of that here). There’s also an intriguing 11-minute segment from a French television program on actor Robert Vattier, who played M. Brun in the trilogy. Amusingly the piece shows a number of people on camera recalling M. Brun but they have trouble recalling the actor.
The most interesting inclusion on the disc, though, is a 1935 short 12-minute “documentary” by Pagnol called Marseille, which is about the port town, the notes describing it as a prewar genre type known as the “documentaire romance.” The segment ends up feeling more like some sort of marketing piece for the films than an actual documentary but is still worth viewing.
The disc then closes with a 2-minute piece on the restoration of the films. This proved to be a bit disappointing as little is shown about the work that went into this. Some material is shown but I actually would have loved more before-and-after material.
The set then comes with a thick 55-page booklet. Michael Atkinson first provides a fairly lengthy essay on the trilogy but the real gem is the collection of prefaces from Pagnol’s stage scripts and screenplays published in 1964, with Pagnol recounting in extensive detail the history of the plays and then the film adaptations. It’s a fascinating read.
In all they’re a fine collection of supplements, getting into Pagnol’s work and the making of the films, and they’re well worth digging through. 8/10