Writer and director Marcel Pagnol died in 1974, but since the mid-1980s, movies based on his works have probably done more to create the popular image of Provence than virtually anything else. In 1986 Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources were huge hits, followed in 1990 by La Gloire De Mon Pere and Le Chateau De Ma Mere, which now come to Blu-ray for the first time in a set that includes both movies.
Based on Pagnol’s memoirs of his youth, the two films cover everything from his birth to what happened to his family in later life, but mainly concentrate on a time during his early adolescence. Both films are rather episodic, looking at different stories from Marcel’s youth, most of which highlight the difficulties of growing up and the conflict between the old ideas on religious and class authority, and a new republican sentiment that was sweeping France in the early 20th Century.
La Gloire De Mon Pere sees a young Marcel being charmed by a man, Jules, who’s romancing his aunt, before he learns many of the things he’s been told about him are white lies. It then moves on to a summer where the family goes on holiday to the hills of Provence. Marcel falls in love with the place, makes friends with a local boy and sees the good-natured but awkward sparring between Jules and his father, which largely centres of shooting partridges.
Le Chateau De Ma Mere has Marcel living back in Marseille but pining for Provence. A solution is worked out where they get to spend the weekends and school breaks at the holiday home, which allows the boy to experience first love with a strange girl called Isabelle. The family is also given a key that allows them to unlock the gates along a private canal, something they’re not really meant to do and which takes them past a series of opulent castle. When they’re caught, it could mean the end of the family’s prosperity.
These are the sort of films that like to wallow in a romantic nostalgia. They’re a recollection of times past that live somewhere between an attempt to recreate a world that’s long gone and an complete idealisation of that time, as seen through filter of the remembrance of childhood (when things inevitably seem better and simpler). It means that if you’re the sort of person who likes gentle, Sunday evening BBC period dramas, you’ll probably adore these movie, while others while find their lack of dramatic action and rose-tinted view of early 20th Century Provence a little tedious.
To be honest there were moments where I got rather bored. In particular the charm of the first film starts to wear rather thin about three quarters of the way through, before picking up again at the end. Le Chateau De Ma Mere is more easily enjoyable all the way through, with a greater sense of humour and a tighter rein on the stories that it consists of. But even while they might not have completely been my cup of tea, I can’t deny their easy charm, sweetness and the bittersweet nostalgia of lost youth they evoke. These are undoubtedly movies that a lot of period drama fans will (and do) adore.
Although the HD transfer is definitely a step up from the DVD, it’s perhaps not quite as crisp and clear as you might hope for a film which has been so praised for its sweeping Provencal vistas. There’s a little bit of grain and some of the images seem a tad oversaturated – although that may well be due more to the bright, slightly overly lit early 90s aesthetic than an issue with the master. It certainly doesn’t look bad and there are some truly majestic shots that get a bit of a boost from HD, but while Blu-ray often brings out the scope of films, which sometimes gets lost from cinema to the home, that’s not really true here.
Each disc also includes a 30-minute featurette, both of which are very interesting. ‘Pagnol’s Glory’ looks at Marcel Pagnol and how he came to write the books the films are based on, and how it all fits into his oeuvre. Pagnol originally wanted to adapt the novels himself, but never managed to (the possibly apocryphal story is that he anointed director Yves Robert as the man he wanted to make the movie if he couldn’t). ‘Filming Aunt Rose’ intercuts an interview with Therese Liotard, who plays Aunt Rose in the film, with a chat with cinematographer Robert Alazraki. They both give interesting insights into the making of the movies, what it was like on the set and how Robert put the movies together. Fans of the film will enjoy both of these, as they are very interesting.
Overall Verdict: Almost painfully nostalgic, La Gloire De Mon Pere and its sequel are enjoyable but will undoubtedly be too twee and lacking in incident for some. They look good in HD, although the picture quality isn’t quite a sharp as you might hope.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac