Now Playing! Sittin’ on the Dock of Marseilles

Still from 'Marius.' (Courtesy of Janus Films/BAMPFA)

Children of Paradise is something of a year-end tradition, but Marcel Carné’s miraculous masterpiece about love and performance (on- and off-stage) isn’t screening hereabouts. We turn to another Marcel, the playwright-cum-filmmaker Pagnol, for a restorative three-course meal of Marseilles mores, moral conundrums and melodrama.

Restorative because Marius, Fanny and César, which arthouse veterans refer to as the Fanny Trilogy, presents its cross-generational saga of everyday, compromise-filled reality with unfailing compassion, generosity and sardonic humor. These 1930s movies work as a reassuring antidote to shaken faith in our fellow man, as well as a bracing aperitif for a clean-slate New Year. Somehow, both seem exceptionally necessary at this juncture.

Still from 'César.'
Still from 'César.' (Courtesy Janus Films/BAMPFA.)

Pagnol’s trio, which screens separately this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (Dec. 27-29) in new digital restorations at BAMPFA, unfolds in and around César’s bar on the dock of the port.

Marius introduces us to the proprietor’s son (played by Pierre Fresnay), who secretly dreams of ditching the washrag and joining the crew of a three-master bound for exotic, far-off places. But he can’t bring himself to tell César (Raimu) or Fanny (Orane Demazis), his close friend since childhood and whose only dream is to marry Marius. The bouillabaisse thickens when Panisse (Fernand Charpin), a middle-aged widower, proposes to Fanny. I wouldn’t think of telling you more, except that Fanny and César follow the characters into thornier and even more poignant thickets.

Still from 'Fanny.'
Still from 'Fanny.' (Courtesy of Janus Films/BAMPFA)

The staging and acting throughout the saga are theatrical more than cinematic, but the insightful writing and heart-on-sleeve performances transform the artifice into flesh-and-blood life. If further incentive is needed, chef and author Alice Waters will introduce all three screenings. You see, after discovering the trilogy at the Pacific Film Archive in the 1970s, Waters named her pioneering restaurant Chez Panisse. And there’s your Bay Area history du jour.

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