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It was to be Marcel Pagnol's last film ;like Mankiewicz,he did not make
any movies (apart from a short) in the last twenty years of his life
;probably busy writing his memoirs ("le Château De Ma Mère,La Gloire de
Mon Père " which were successfully tranferred to the screen by Yves
Robert in the late eighties.
Alphonse Daudet's short stories were tailor made for a Provençal director such as Pagnol;if you go to Provence,you can visit the windmill where Daudet was supposed to write his "letters" ;actually he never lived in that place,but in the castle of some of his friends near the legendary mill.But it's true that most of the stories which were included in "LETTRES DE MON MOULIN" are true stories:Daudet was told about Maitre Cornille ,MR Seguin's goat and others by peasants and shepherds he used to meet when he walked across the hills.
Pagnol selected three short stories:
segment 1 "L'ELixir du Reverend Père Gaucher" :this delicious elixir (liquor)is still selling in Provence today!Father Gaucher inherits a lot of stuff from his auntie;particularly interesting is the receipt of a liquor.A dealer (FErnand Sardou) is very interested and the fact that it is made by monks gives a " serious" guarantee to the product.As the father gets drunk every time he makes his liquor,his mates the monks invent a new absolution:the absolution while the sinner is sinning!
Segment 2: "LE SECRET DE MAITRE CORNILLE".The novel underwent some changes:the writer Daudet appears in the flesh ;it's him who reveals the secret:the windmill is running but there's no wheat in it,it runs light.
The philosophy was ahead of its time: clean energy please!
Segment 3:"LES TROIS MESSES BASSES " The devil takes the shape of Garrigou,the sacristan and begins to lead a priest into temptation:it's Christmas night,but before the Reveillon (midnight meal),the religious man has got to celebrate three masses;the devil talks and talks and talks of the turkeys,trouts and truffles,they will have after the services ;so the priest entirely botches the last mass, skipping the Pater and the Credo.God is not prepared to accept it.
It was the time when Pagnol's style had begun to be a bit obsolete;but you can watch these three shorts with pleasure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Theoretically any first-rate director should be able to tackle any genre and emerge with a worthwhile product and there are those - like Howard Hawks - whose careers illustrate this but on the other hand a producer toying with the idea of remaking say, The Lower Depths or Crime and Punishment would not automatically think of approaching Francis Veber just as John Ford would not be the automatic choice for a lavish musical. Guys like Veber and Ford have established a style/genre that they do as well and/or better than anyone else and so it was that Marcel Pagnol was a logical choice to bring the Provencal stories of Alphonse Daudet to the screen. As it turned out this was to be Pagnol's cinematic swansong though he lived another twenty years and as swansongs go it is as good as any and better than most. Pagnol settled on three stories - not unlike Max Ophuls in Le Plaisir - which illustrate the range of Daudet and certainly allow us to sample his unique flavour whether it be tipsy monks creating a new form of absolution along with the wine, a mill running on empty or a priest facing devilish temptation. We may regret that Pagnol was unable to bow out with something of his own but we also applaud a distinguished swansong.
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