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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.19:1 Standard
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 3 Discs
FEATURES
  • New introduction by filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier
  • New interview with Nicolas Pagnol, grandson of writer-director Marcel Pagnol
  • Segments from Marcel Pagnol: Morceaux choisis, a 1973 documentary series on Pagnol’s life and work
  • Marseille, a short 1935 documentary about the Marseille harbor produced by Pagnol
  • Archival interviews with actors Orane Demazis, Pierre Fresnay, and Robert Vattier
  • Pagnol’s Poetic Realism, a new video essay by scholar Brett Bowles
  • French television clip from 2015 about the restoration of the trilogy
  • Theatrical rerelease trailer

The Marseille Trilogy

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Alexander Korda, Marcel Pagnol
2017 | 395 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #881
MVD Visual

Release Date: June 20, 2017
Review Date: July 20, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

In the 1930s, Marcel Pagnol, a leading light of the Paris theater, set out for new horizons as a filmmaker in his native Provence. His early masterpieces Marius, Fanny, and César mix theatrical stagecraft with realistic location photography to create an epic love story from the fabric of everyday life. Gruff, sentimental César (music-hall star Raimu) owns a waterfront bar in the Old Port of Marseille where his son, Marius (Pierre Fresnay), wipes down tables and dreams of a life at sea. The prosperous, middle-aged sailmaker Panisse (Fernand Charpin) wants to wed Marius’s sweetheart, Fanny (Orane Demazis), setting up a fateful romantic triangle whose story unfolds across a generation in the films of The Marseille Trilogy, which first earned Pagnol his place in cinema history. “If Pagnol is not the greatest auteur of the sound film,” critic André Bazin wrote, “he is in any case something akin to its genius.”


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille Trilogy on Blu-ray, which includes the films Marius (directed by Alexander Korda), Fanny (directed by Marc Allégret), and César (directed by Pagnol himself). Marius and Fanny are both presented in the aspect ratio of 1.19:1 while César is presented in 1.37:1. All three films get their own dual-layer disc and are also all presented in 1080p/24hz. The notes mention that all three films come from new 4K restorations and were scanned from the original 35mm nitrate negatives, a 35mm safety duplicate negatives, and a 35mm safety duplicate positives.

The restorations and encodes for all three films are really exceptional, exceeding my expectations in just about every regard. The weakest of the three would probably be Fanny but this has more to do with the source materials: though generally sharp and clear there are areas of the screen that can look blurry and out-of-focus. Marius is also a little bit limited by the source and the image isn’t razor sharp, at least in comparison to César, the newest of the three films, which probably benefits from newer filmmaking technology and a different film stock. Fine object details are clearly better in César, which also has the sharper textures.

All three films have excellent encodes as well and all three look filmic and natural. Film grain is rendered beautifully, across all three films (though César’s grain structure is finer in comparison to the other films) and there are no digital artifacts present. Contrast looks great with clean tonal shifts, and blacks levels are fairly deep without crushing out details. All three look quite incredible and though they were all made between the years 1931 and 1936 they all look much newer than that.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Marius, Fanny, César

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

Screen Capture
Marius

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Marius

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Marius

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Marius

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Marius

Screen Capture
Fanny

Screen Capture
Fanny

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Fanny

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Fanny

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Fanny

Screen Capture
César

Screen Capture
César

Screen Capture
César

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César

Screen Capture
César

AUDIO

All three films present their respective tracks in lossless PCM 1.0 mono. All three have been cleaned up extensively, with no severe moments of damage but I found dialogue could be a bit muffled in places, which may be related to the on-location audio recording (the supplements make mention of the sound people having a hard time recording Raimu’s dialogue). The tracks are also a bit flat with limited fidelity.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Marius, Fanny, César

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

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

CLOSING

It’s a wonderful set and an easy contender for one of the year’s best releases. The supplements are all engaging and informative and the presentations are absolutely stunning. This comes with a very high recommendation.


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