This is Part 2 of the Marius, Fanny and Cesar trilogy which was originally filmed in the 1930s by Marcel Pagnol, and is now being reworked by Daniel Auteuil. It is as cheesy (or hammy) as your average Parisian croque-monsieur, a costume drama not a million miles from L’Abbe du Downton. There is a certain charm in its old fashioned stiffness, but it’s hard to take it seriously as a 21st century movie.
The story so far… Marius is a handsome young man whose father (Cesar) owns a bar on the docks in Marseilles. His best friend is a young woman (Fanny) whose mother is a hard working widow. Marius and Fanny have grown up together, and it is only when an older friend of Cesar’s proposes to Fanny that Marius realises that his feelings for Fanny are not simply platonic. One thing leads to another, and they sleep together. However Marius has always had a yearning to go to sea, and Fanny is so noble that she encourages him to go off on a boat which is due to be away for 5 years, rather than stay behind just for her sake.
That is the story of the first film (Marius) and it is where we start in Fanny. Marius has gone, without telling his overbearing father. Panisse (the older wealthy man) is still keen to marry Fanny, and she has problems of her own when she realises that her nights of passion with Marius may have had consequences that might have been foreseen. As I say, much of the plot could have come straight out of Downton Abbey (not surprisingly, since they are set at roughly the same time). Fortunately we don’t have to deal with any aristos, just worthy working and lower middle class stereotypes who group themselves careful around a table so that the camera can keep them all in frame, while they deliver their lines clearly and art-ic-ul-ate-ly. None of the characters and remotely believable, they all talk too much, and the plot is both slow and predictable.
Another problem is that Marius – who doesn’t turn up until two thirds of the film – is wholly lacking in charm. Good looking maybe, but conceited, vain, self-centred and thoroughly obnoxious. It’s hard to see why Fanny cares so much about him, because we sure don’t. The central question, though, must be why Daniel Auteuil (who also plays Cesar) chose to remake the films. They are French classics, and it was never likely that he would improve on the originals. And, as can be seen from the original Fanny on youtube, this new version follows Pagnol’s very faithfully, apart from being in colour. It’s French heritage cinema, appealing to a certain kind of nostalgia for a lost age of simplicity and innocence that never really existed except on the screen. The films (both ancient and modern) are talky, stagey, lumbered with too much dialogue and exposition, possibly because Pagnol started life as a writer and didn’t like to edit his own scripts.
This is clunky film making, lacking subtlety and originality, more soap opera than serious drama, but if that’s your kind of thing, then it’s all yours.
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