Picking up where Marius left off, actor-director Daniel Auteuil’s Fanny — the second entry in his planned adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s 1930s Marseilles trilogy — offers both the same pleasures (bighearted performances, an engaging maritime setting) and drawbacks (unabashedly dated values, a rigid theatricality) as its predecessor.
But the narrative circumstances make for an overall tone that is less sprightly: Alexandre Desplat’s score does a lot of heavy melodramatic lifting as Fanny (Victoire Bélézy) and César (Auteuil) mourn the sudden departure of their beloved Marius (Raphaël Personnaz), who has hopped aboard the Malaisie for a five-year voyage. With Marius gone, the port’s wealthy sailmaker, Panisse (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), rekindles his pursuit of the young Fanny, even requesting marital permission from the girl’s mother (Marie-Anne Chazel).
But César, protective of his absent son’s feelings for Fanny, disapproves of the potential union; moreover, there’s a development that neither he nor Panisse knows about: Marius has left Fanny with child. In a terrifically drawn-out scene set in Panisse’s workshop — the production design peppered with ladders, fabrics, and crates — these three negotiate the terms of the pregnancy, and the language equates Fanny’s pending decision with a business transaction, suggesting a critique Marius never quite offered.
Fanny has a stagy sensibility, but Auteuil displays flashes of genuine, old-school craft. In an early scene, Panisse and two other locals share a table in César’s bar, discussing how Marius’s desertion has left the old man depressed. As they converse, César can be seen through the bar’s stained window, sitting in the distance outside. Such visual economy — Auteuil making himself observable while he’s being discussed — helps bring this material to life.