"Manon Des Sources " matched Pagnol 's great works and was arguably his best since " La Fille Du Puisatier" (1941);it's also his legacy for "Carnaval" ,a collaboration with Henri Verneuil ,was a disaster ,and "Les lettres De Mon Moulin ",was too uneven a work.A legacy ,it certainly is,but a mammoth work ,a 3h 45 movie ,and never a dull moment ;it flows along ,a source which never dries up (sic).
Now overshadowed by Claude Berri 's work in two parts,which is and is not a remake ,I won't add much to all that has been written on the site by both precedent users;I just want to point out that in the 1952 opus, the central character is the schoolteacher who plays a prominent part in the work (on the poster you can see his face;not on Berri's one.Now I'll stick with the black and white gem,perhaps my Pagnol favorite ,along with "Merlusse " and "La Fille Du Puisatier"
This schoolteacher is masterfully played by Raymond Pellegrin who found here his lifetime part ;I have always thought that he was the director's spokesman;after all, Pagnol's dad was a shoolteacher(remember the beautiful "La Gloire De Mon Père " and " Le Château De Ma Mère ",transferred to the screen by Yves Robert ) and he was an English teacher before writing and directing;it's not surprising that it's him who indirectly works the final "miracle" .
"Manon " is originally a work in two parts;it was to last five ,nay six hours ,but the producers did not want to hear of it : both parts were released at the same time (like ,for instance, "Les Enfants Du Paradis") and the audience had to pay twice of course .
It might well be the longest French movie at the time but the four hours never seem to drag by .It might be this work which made Pagnol one of the new wavelet 's favorites ;it might seem obsolete,it's actually very modern :the scenes are very long ,they seem to have been filmed in real time ;if Pagnol's lines were not so witty and so florid,some of them would look like impromptu performances:
-the long scenes with Monsieur Belloiseau (Robert Vattier whose hilarious performance of a deaf and talkative clerk is unforgettable;often compared to Professeur Tournesol (Calculus));choosing a deaf man to deliver a speech is sheer genius ,and it adds a lot to the final scene which ends part one when everybody is panic-stricken .His long tale which begins the story in which he tells the hunchback's terrible fate (he's referred to "Jean De Florette"only at the end of part 2) could have been a stodgy melodrama; the "game" his audience plays wins us over : it shows that,like all the genuine artists,Pagnol never forgives his sense of humor .
-The speech the vicar delivers in an overcrowded church lasts ten minutes (you read well) and will remind Pagnol's fans of his short "Le Curé De Cucugnan"; although anticlerical to a fault ,the director does the priest justice :"your prayers are for your tomatoes" ;science ,represented by the schoolteacher ,and later by the engineer -whose geological explanations in front of a clueless village council are worth the price of admission,too :then again ,it could be the bore to end all bores :it's simply great!-,is as helpless as religion when it comes to get water back.And sometimes the viewer stops and wonders : perhaps the old country woman's curse -in Provençal Patois - is stronger than faith and reason (too bad that the wonderful Marcelle Géniat should be absent in the second part).
Water (although the movie does not deal with this problem ,"La Fille Du Puisatier" is "the well-digger's daughter all the same)and land (see "Joffroi" and "Regain" )are recurrent themes in the director's work ;so is the outcast : the unwed mother in many previous works ("Angèle "and the famous trilogy), lonely teacher ("Merlusse" ) ,halfwit ("Angèle" );Manon 's family was rejected from the start because her dad was a hunchback (superstitions would claim it brought bad luck)and had left the country for a while,he was not worthy of their community ;alone in the world with a sick mom we never see ,she 's got a chip on her shoulder;:some say Jacqueline Pagnol ,the attractive director's wife was not a great actress; but her husband made her a winner : a long-haired mysterious wild girl who knows the hills and their secrets (and who knows she's got sex-appeal),she effortlessly wins the audience over.Whereas it took a whole film in the remake, Manon's misfortunes are told here in admirably succint style : Belloiseau's tale , a drawing ,and (which is stunning in Pagnol's work) Ugolin 's visions (special effects in 1952) when he realizes that ,coveting the girl and the farm,he loses on both accounts.
There were things that would never alter ,in the director's canon:aided by a bevy of tremendous actors (they should all be mentioned) ,as usual,he creates dozens of unforgettable characters : you'll remember the butcher who used to give "scraps for the hunchback's dogs" ;the over possessive mom who accuses Manon of having split her dear boy's skull open; the mayor who tactlessly tries to undo the harm they've all done .
And if the director was sometimes accused of "filming plays" , do watch the marvelous landscapes of Provence ,of course filmed on location.And if both "trials " are filmed stage production, then give me more of them!
Comedy walks hand in hand with tragedy in Pagnol's magnum opus ;Raymond Pellegrin reportedly said something like :"Pagnol ,it's the sun on the brink of ruin".
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