If Marius is largely an annoyance as an excuse for Daniel Auteuil to diligently replicate the first entry in Marcel Pagnol’s “Marseilles” trilogy, then Fanny compounds that tedium by merely reproducing the first film’s style, tone, and shot structure to narcotizing effect. Although Fanny dutifully continues Pagnol’s narrative, with Marius (Raphaël Personnaz) setting sail to join the navy while César (Daniel Auteuil) is left clutching Fanny (Victoire Bélézy), whose distraught, pregnant state will set the film’s soapy events in motion, Auteuil’s directorial style functions as cinematic anesthesia, with a requisite series of tilts, pans, and establishing dolly shots suturing together the film’s largely inert dramatic landscape. The overall result is a doggedly conservative understanding of filmic expression, as each unfolding scene suggests not revision, passion, or a lively vigor regarding character, theme, and form, but a stubborn insistence that obsequious servility should define deferential cultural engagement.
The entire logic behind Fanny suggests a Fordist production, in a manner that Pagnol’s work originally resisted. Pagnol sought progress, to enliven taboo debates about having a child out of wedlock and the damaging, socio-economic repercussions of such anti-humanist thought processes, which were reinforced by assembly-line mentalities. Instead of reconfiguring these vital conversations with the advantage of hindsight, Auteuil merely engages “those were the days” posturing, fetishizing the time period with a gooey, sentimental score by Alexandre Desplat and offering only meager engagement with his characters’ psychological drives. The characters, the sets, and the scenes all exist to propagate the notion that pleasure derives from repetition and remediation. This chapter’s narrative crux hinges on Fanny’s child, belonging to Marius, but taken responsibility for by the elderly Panisse (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), whose affections for the mademoiselle are less patriarchal than carnal, though Auteuil here, too, does little to further explore each trait’s mutual exclusivity. Instead of finding an innovative means to express dejection and strife, he opts for standard close-ups within hokey dialogue scenes, particularly of himself looking dismayed over hearing of Marius’s departure, but any resonances attained by the cast’s talents are engulfed by textual ineptitudes, in service of no discernible, comprehensive significance.
The film’s determined focus on Bélézy provides Auteuil with the opportunity of formally rendering her face as an idea, in an evolved manner akin to how Roland Barthes spoke of Greta Garbo, with the implicit suggestion that developments in feminine agency could operate as an extension of the cinematic apparatus. After all, by naming the three films after different characters, Pagnol’s intimation is that each film could be formally catered to the traits and whims of the given character. Such an end would have allowed Auteuil to have his Pagnol and eat him too. But Auteuil isn’t interested in probing content with either the image or revisionist politics; instead, he’s more aroused by indulging the repressive gossip that surrounds outrage over Fanny’s “situation,” predominately existing at the film’s periphery, among the small-town residents.
Yet even here, Auteuil finds little by way of commentary or suggestion regarding the era’s righteous indignations beyond their mere capitulations, in turn proffering an unsettling suggestion that there’s something inherently attractive or deservedly nostalgic about this much simpler, slower time. Once Marius returns near the film’s end, the confrontations reek of safety and illegitimacy, given the dearth of possibilities that any insight could be yielded to catalyzing effects. Auteuil’s desire for indulging bourgeois pleasantries is finally oppressive, since Fanny’s ultimate sin is that there’s nothing queer about it.