4 October 2019 | robert-temple-1
A simple and beautiful film
This is a Marcel Pagnol project. Naïs Micoulin is the name of the young girl whose story this is. Pagnol wrote the script as an adaptation of a short story by Émile Zola, entitled 'Naïs Micoulin'. As usual with Zola, uncontrolled passions and violent acts occur in this tale, as it explores the perverse sides of human nature. Pagnol did the initial narration for the tale and apparently acted as an uncredited Executive Producer. The film is set in Provence, Pagnol's territory, and has beautiful shots of the countryside and seaside. The role of Naïs is played by Jacqueline Bouvier, who became Jacqueline Pagnol (and only died in 2016 at the age of 95). Jacqueline later made several films with Pagnol and was the original Manon in the first film of Manon des Sources (1952), which Pagnol directed. But the shining star of this film is the incomparable Fernandel. Here he plays a hunchback named Toine who works in a ceramics factory. He is the childhood friend of Naïs and has always been desperately in love with her. But she is very beautiful and he is physically deformed so that she has no romantic thoughts about him. Aged 18 and radiant with her youthful beauty, but not very bright, Naïs cannot avoid arousing the interest of various males, but her father is insanely jealous and says he will never permit her to marry or leave him. In fact, as the story progresses, we discover that he is really not merely deranged but homicidal. When country girl Naïs falls in love with a dashing young fellow 'from the town' (Aix en Provence) her father sets about planning the young man's murder. The heartbreak of Fernandel and the insanity of Naïs's father are the bizarre backdrop to the love affair between Naïs and the boy. This film is simple, direct, and honest. There is plenty of sentimentality, but none of it is false sentimentality such as one gets from the saccharine fantasies of Hollywood, where subtlety has always been unknown. This film is 'made straight from the heart'. It may lack the contemporary cynicism which is so fashionable today, and could be accused of innocence (the greatest crime of the present time's knowing sneers). But this is a magnificent work of honest cinema, where morality is taken seriously and held up to the light, where the differences between rural and urban people are examined with a mixture of humour and despair, and where the issue of physical disability is shoved in our faces so that we are forced to think about it. And above it all, the childlike charm of Fernandel glows like a sunrise.