Like beauty, morality is in the eye of the beholder: this is the main theme of Marcel Pagnol’s finest comedy, from Jean Giono’s novel Un de Baumugnes. Angèle (Orane Demazis), the proverbial farmer’s daughter in Provence, is seduced by a city pimp who confines her to a Marseilles brothel, where she becomes pregnant, and where the family farmhand, Saturnin (Fernandel, wonderful), finds her and convinces her to return home. The prodigal daughter provides a test for her father—one that he fails: from paternal love, choosing her and grandson, in effect, Nature, or choosing himself, which is to say, the patriarchal social structure to which his familial authority, or the illusion of this authority, is wedded. He locks daughter and infant in the cellar, as once Angèle had been “locked” in the brothel. Love must find a way to free her—and does.
Love means never even having to suppress judgment, never having to have someone say she is sorry—because she needn’t be. We are all weak in different ways, and shows of indignant strength, such as Angèle’s father’s, conceal weakness.
There is always a lot of plot in Pagnol’s films, because the simple people for whom Pagnol claimed to toil liked plot, and so did he. Nor is the stereotypical nature of his characters and plot to be challenged, since it reflects the issues that engage him. The seducer, Louis, bears the name of kings; Barbaroux is the Provençal father and daughter’s family name.
What behavioral humor: Angèle lovingly adds tobacco to her shopping list but tells her father, “You smoke too much!” whereupon he asks his farmhand, who calls him “Master,” why he isn’t equally honest with him. There is also poetry, both visually and in the way that ordinary folk express themselves.
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