We do like a nice bit of succulently subtitled French cinema, don’t we? Not this merde, says Simon Mernagh.
Imagine for a brief (no doubt magical) moment that you’re the acclaimed French actor turned filmmaker Daniel Auteuil. You’ve undertaken a grand re-imagining of the classic Marcel Pagnol theatrical trio of Marius, Fanny and César, but realise that directing an epic dramatic trilogy is best left to masters like Richard Linklater. So instead of deftly editing the entire saga into one concise production, you simultaneously release two movies. Best of both worlds, right?
Wrong. How could you have arrived at that conclusion, Auteuil? You used to be cool!
Marius revolves around, believe it or not, Marius (Raphaël Personnaz), an emotionally distant Marseilles barman whose love for childhood friend Fanny (Victoire Bélézy) is compromised by a secret passion. Fanny takes up the reins exactly where Marius left off, continuing and further developing the abject melodrama past the brink of exhaustion. When joined, both films form an unbearable goulash of hyperbole, boredom and nausea.
A haunting problem for these movies (and a general flaw of cinematic theatre adaptations) lies in their overbearing staginess. Undoubtably, there’s a theatrical spirit underpinning the proceedings – characters such as Honorine (Marie-Anne Chazel) and the director’s own César strive to bring some much-needed gravitas to the table, but the former is borderline cartoonish in her raspy screeching and arm-flailing. Conversely, the latter doesn’t occupy nearly enough screentime.
Significant plot developments hinge on singularly outdated social dilemmas which, to our 21st century eyes and ears, seem laughable. Shock, horror and disgust are levelled towards members of the younger generation for engaging in the tamest, lamest possible displays of sexuality, and the movie treats these ‘crimes’ overwhelmingly seriously. It’s all a bit silly.
Oh well, at least the scenery is nice. Auteuil nails the visual aesthetic of the ’30s, and anyone with a boner for boats should find all the nautical lingo and assorted sailing paraphernalia right up their alley.
Much like the fleet of ships floating around Marseilles’ docks, our protagonists are attractive if strangely wooden, empty vessels. Personnaz resembles a young Johnny Depp, while Bélézy plays the lovestruck shellfish vendor relatively well. But their performances are stifled by the boring soap opera they’re forced to sell. Rather than a pleasingly vintage wine, Pagnol’s tales have aged like some fermented, mouldy sandwiches that were discovered behind the radiator.
Together, Auteuil’s ‘companion pieces’ act as a worryingly telltale sign of where popular culture is headed – nobody should expect to pay double for what is essentially a single film split in half. What Auteuil offers here amounts to little more than a shamelessly inartful cash-grab, and a watch-gazingly tedious one at that. I suspect he’s been watching Fair City.
‘Marius’ and ‘Fanny’ both open The Screen Dublin on December 6
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