Monday, July 14, 2014

Fanny: Without Marius

For sailors, it is an age old question—which is stronger, the love of a woman or the call of the sea? It is an issue that preoccupies the first two plays of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseilles trilogy. In the opening installment, Marius has apparently answered in favor of the latter. Abandoned and secretly pregnant, the woman he once loved must now carry on in Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation of Fanny, which opens this Friday in New York.

Although they long carried torches for each other, Marius decided he had to ship out when he finally had the opportunity and Fanny believed she had to let him go. Unfortunately, her unwed pregnancy promises to ruin her standing around the Old Port of Marseilles. Marius’s gregarious father César is still under the illusion his son will soon return to marry Fanny, but the lack of letters from her former lover speaks volumes.

Much to her surprise, Fanny’s old suitor, Panisse the sail merchant renews his marriage offer, even after she fully explains her condition. Initially, César bitterly resents their union, but when they fully take the tavern-keeper into their confidence, he accepts the pragmatism of the arrangement. He will be the godfather to his absent son’s baby, while Panisse’s wealth will secure his future. Of course, the big uncertainty looming over their arrangement is Marius, should he ever return.

As both actor and director, Auteuil has an assured command of Pagnol’s work. While there are a few strikingly cinematic sequences in Fanny, he intimately focuses on the personal drama, eschewing flash and dazzle. He also delivers the most memorable performance, defining the sacrifices of parenthood in exquisitely sensitive terms. Jean-Pierre Darroussin is not far behind Auteuil, playing old Panisse with painful dignity and earnestness. Victoire Bélézy looks lovely and deeply tragic as Fanny, whereas Raphaël Personnaz largely underwhelms as the titular prodigal son.

Fanny has an evocative old world vibe, heightened by the best score over-rated film composer Alexandre Desplat has penned in years. Cinematographer Jean-François Robin gives it all a warm, nostalgic (in the best sense) look. A quality period literary adaptation, Fanny satisfactorily stands alone for viewers who have not seen the preceding Marius. Recommended for patrons of French cinema, Fanny opens this Friday (7/18) in New York at the Quad Cinema.