1 December 2005 | corvinello
The loss of innocence
The setting: a small private school run by a Scrooge-y director. Topaze, a thirty-something teacher, scrupulously honest, who is fond of his job and full of indulgence and devotion for his pupils, is brutally expelled for refusing to cheat by upgrading the bad scores of a rich-family pupil, as demanded by both his mother and the director.
Clueless and still honest through it all, circumstances lead him next to be recruited to "work" - unknowingly - as a front for a corrupted city counselor who uses his position to get all sorts of paybacks. But as Topaze "wisens" up, his view of life, of the values of virtue and the utility of money will evolve in a new direction.
The plot is simple enough, but listen to those dialogs! Topaze seems dumb but is in fact generous and refuses to admit, not being corrupt himself, the mere existence of corruption in the people that surround him. He truly believes in the goodness of man. Events will challenge this belief, as it does for most of us.
This tale rings astonishingly true in the present times. It has not aged a bit. Though at times cynical, it is a deep and touching reflexion on the importance of money, wealth and power, the supremacy of appearances over substance, and the ordeal of those that are deprived of any of those things.
In my opinion, being a Pagnol fan (of both his books and films), this is Marcel Pagnol's most personal opus. It features an extraordinary cast; as in all of Pagnol's movies, event the smallest parts are well-cast. Fernandel is outstanding as he goes from naive to cynical. Perdrière is adorable and smart, and Marcel Vallée plays the part of the school director with verve: watch him closely in the scene where he is with the outraged mother who demands that the "error" in his son's scores is "discovered" and corrected.
If you have a chance to see this, don't miss it.