La Gloire de Mon Père (My Father’s Glory)

France (1990) Dir. Yves Robert

Just prior to the turn of the 20th century in Marseilles, Marcel is born to school teacher Jospeh Pagnol (Philippe Caubère) and his seamstress wife Augustine (Nathalie Roussel). After the birth of second son Paul, their Aunt Rose (Thérèse Liotard) meets and marries a jovial business man who would become their Uncle Jules (Didier Pain).

When the summer break comes round Jules hires a holiday house in Provence and both families – Rose and Jules now have a child of their own and the Pagnols now have a daughter – head of to the country where Jules teaches Jospeh about hunting and the now 11 year-old Marcel (Julien Ciamaca) becomes enamoured by rural life after meeting local boy Lili (Joris Molinas).

La Gloire de Mon Père is the first of four autobiographical novels from writer and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, best known for his novels (and later films) Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources. Anyone who has read this books or seen the films will not be very surprised to learn that Pagnol’s life and background was a clear inspiration for those works as this film is practically identical to these rustic yarns in both a visual sense (they were all filmed in Provence) and in content, with their gentle charm, emphasis on the family unit and the joy of a bucolic lifestyle.

Young Marcel (Benoît Martin) is portrayed as a cheeky but prodigious boy who, by being able to read at a level beyond his years, polarises his parents, with Joseph wishing to nurture this skill while over protective and stricter mother Augustine forbids Marcel to touch another book until he is six for fear of his head exploding! Not that it stops him – in one scene he steals a cookbook just so he can read the recipes.

After baby Paul arrives, Marcel is used as a cover for Aunt Rose to see Jules who they meet in a park which Jules claims to own (but doesn’t). The affluent chap wins Rose, Augustine, Marcel and Paul over but Joseph remains on guard, him being an atheist and Jules very much a Catholic.

The summer break in Provence sees the two finally bond over shooting at which Joseph is slow to pick up despite his academic brilliance but the bagging of two rock partridges wins him the respect of the Provence locals who saw him as a snooty “towney” and Joseph begins to realise there is more to life than academia.

For Marcel, he experiences a similar adventure when he sneaks out against his father’s wishes to join Jospeh and Jules on their hunt, where he meets Lili after getting lost. The two boys become friends and share each other’s experiences with the other. Marcel embraces the carefree lifestyle and soaks up the picturesque scenery and wants to stay in Provence, a tantalising prospect ruined as the holiday break comes to a close.

Central to all the shenanigans that occur, regardless of location, the family unit remains a solid focus of the story, whether it is Marcel bonding with his father over typical manly pursuits yet still finding comfort in the arms of his mother. There is no overriding loyalty towards either parent on the part of Marcel yet he has his issues with both as any child does keeping the relationships totally believable.

In keeping with this last observation, there are some amusing moments born out of the innocence of the kids which many of us must have experienced at one time or another. The scene when Marcel investigates the rumour that babies don’t come from storks is a well observed gem as is the way the two siblings enjoy the novelty of the (for the time) mod con free countryside. I defy anyone not to see a little bit of their past as the two boys wash themselves with a hose then run naked through the house to dry off!

Much like the aforementioned Pagnol film adaptations, Provence is used to great effect and looks a radiant setting thanks to the luscious camerawork, while the accurate recreation of the clothes and props of the period enhances the authenticity of the entire experience, dragging the viewer into the yesteryear world of Pagnol’s childhood which you’ll not be in a hurry to leave. The cast two are equally convincing in their roles defying any notion that there were all actually living in 1990 away from the set!

Anyone who has enjoyed the adaptations of Pagnol’s novels should find no difficulty in taking to the author’s life story at all. While four books were written only two were filmed with the sequel Le château de ma mere shot at the same time as this one – and this reviewer is waiting with baited breath to see it! Watch this space!

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