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Fanny: Film Review

Fanny Still 2013 H
"Fanny," 2013.

The Bottom Line

This stagier second installment still features terrific performances and more of Pagnol’s touching moral sagacity.

Opens

July 10 (in France)

Director

Daniel Auteuil

Cast

Daniel Auteuil, Victoire Belezy, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Raphael Personnaz, Marie-Anne Chazel

Director Daniel Auteuil continues his update of Marcel Pagnol’s "Marseilles Trilogy," along with co-stars Victoire Belezy, Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Marie-Anne Chazel.

PARIS -- Fanny, the second part of Daniel Auteuil’s Marseilles Trilogy revival, begins where the last story ended, concentrating on its titular heroine’s efforts to survive back home while her lover sails the seven seas. Like its predecessor, this handsomely mounted production is marked by glowing performances from Auteuil, Victoire Belezy and especially Jean-Pierre Darroussin as a kindhearted widower looking to cash in on Fanny’s predicament. But this installment also feels a tad stagier, with less cinematic and emotional breadth than Marius, even if its third act packs considerable dramatic punch.

Released along with Marius on over 500 combined screens, the Pathe-financed production should score decent coin in France, where Marcel Pagnol’s plays and films are still popular, especially among older audiences. Overseas, it could find a home among up-market distributors and French film festivals, although it might have been an easier sell if accompanied by the trilogy’s last segment (Cesar), which has yet to start shooting.

FILM REVIEW: Marius

Originally adapted to the screen by Pagnol for a 1932 production directed by Marc Allegret, the now-classic version brought back much of the same cast, including Raimu, Pierre Fresnay and Orane Demazis as the young damsel in distress. Auteuil (who’s no stranger to the Pagnol universe, having already starred in Claude Berri’s 1986 adaptations Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring) actually shot parts one and two of the trilogy simultaneously, using the same crew, sets and actors -- although Raphael Personnaz, who plays Marius, has less of a role here.

Indeed, with Marius having hopped on a ship en route for a five-year voyage across the South Seas, Fanny (Belezy) is left to her own devices back in Marseilles. She’s thus an easy prey for the sad, gentle and considerably older Panisse (Darroussin), a local sail manufacturer with a sizeable fortune he hopes to pass on to his future children.

Lucky -- or not -- for both of them, it turns out that Fanny is carrying Marius’ baby, and with the help of her mom (Marie-Anne Chazel) and Marius’ wise if pugnacious dad, Cesar (Auteuil), they work out a deal whereby Fanny will marry Panisse, thus ensuring financial security for her and her son, while avoiding the shame of raising a fatherless child (this is, after all, the 1920’s).

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Much of the film’s first hour follows Fanny as she deals with her predicament, facing off against her mother and Cesar, while slipping in and out of Panisse’s grasp. Belezy -- who previously starred in the Marseilles-based TV soap Plus belle la vie -- does a fine job channeling Fanny’s withering emotional states, and she’s more than well assisted by veterans Chazel, Auteuil and Darroussin, who’s particularly touching as a man willing to sacrifice his dignity in order to preserve the family name.

As could be expected of any classically structured plot, just when the couple gets sort-of happily married (in the film’s principal outdoor scene), Marius comes back into the picture, setting the stage for a potent finale that pits love and desire against reason and social standing, while putting things in motion for the final installment.

Marked by the same polished production values and set to Alexandre Desplat’s catchy score, Fanny is definitely a worthy companion to Marius, although it’s also more claustrophobic in terms of staging, confining the action to a handful of interior sequences that feel less like a movie than like filmed theater, albeit of a rather high order.

Of course, this might simply be that Auteuil is being as faithful to the text as he can, stripping things down to the essentials and placing the dialogue above everything else. Because at its very best moments, Fanny reveals to what extent Pagnol really was one of France’s great 20th century dramatists, creating fervent yet extremely light-hearted scenarios, and setting them in a sun-baked southern city where passions are forever confronted with the realities of daily life.

Production companies: A.S. Films, Zack Films, Pathe
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Victoire Belezy, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Raphael Personnaz, Marie-Anne Chazel
Director, screenwriter: Daniel Auteuil, based on the play by Marcel Pagnol
Producers: Alain Sarde, Jerome Seydoux
Director of photography: Jean-Francois Robin
Production designer: Christian Marti
Costume designer: Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Editor: Joelle Hache
Sales agent: Pathe International
No rating, 101 minutes