Script and dialogue writer, director, and producer: Marcel Pagnol
Lyricist: Jean Manse
Cast: Fernadel, Orane Demazis, Alice Robert, Odette Roger, Alida Rouffe, Fernand Charpin, Léon Belières, Robert Vattier, Pierre Brasseur, Geo Forster, Henri Poupon
The title of this film is mysterious not only for the Russian-speaking audience. The word "Schpountz" is a neologism that goes back to the German “Spund” (cork). Pagnol’s regular cameraman Willy Faktorovitch, an émigré from Ukraine who spoke German, gave this nickname to a village guy who three years earlier, while they were filming “Angèle” (1934), would hang out all day long on the set, bothering the group with stories about how he would become a movie star and become famous, as soon as he was made part of the shoot. To get rid of the annoying man, the filmmakers signed a joke contract with him. This real story formed the basis of the plot of the new film: the screenwriter, director, and producer Marcel Pagnol decided that the main role had to be played by one of his favorite actors, Fernandel, a comedian who knew how to be funny and touching at the same time (it was not for nothing that he was called the successor of Charlie Chaplin). The members of the film crew who pulled a trick on the provincial Irénée Fabre are played by real filmmakers employed by Pagnol on the set of the film “Harvest”, which he was making simultaneously with “Schpountz”. From a technical and financial point of view, this was a very sensible move.
In fact, everything that Pagnol, the first filmmaker to become a member of the French Academy, and perhaps the smartest man in French cinema, as the famous film scholar and critic Henri Agel described him, undertook, was sensible and thoughtful. An English teacher from the south of France, who wrote plays in his spare time, turned into a famous playwright overnight. He wrote the scripts based on his plays himself, at first entrusting the production to famous directors like Alexander Korda (“Marius”, 1931) and Marc Allégret (“Fanny”, 1932), but then he took the reins into his own hands. The third film in his trilogy about Marseilles workers, “César” (1936), he directed himself based on the original script which he wrote specially for the cinema.
When watching “Le Schpountz”, a Russian-speaking viewer will not be able to appreciate the southern accent and regional phrases of the inhabitants of a small town in the vicinity of Marseille, where Irénée, his brother Casimir and their very kind uncle and aunt, who replaced their parents who died early, live. But it is impossible not to feel the warmth of their relationships, the life of Provence, filled with French jokes and bon vivantism, the role that wine and delicious food play in the life of a French grocer, and the opportunity to exchange a few words with a friendly neighbor or to walk along the sun-drenched street.
It is impossible not to feel the confrontation between the South and the North: another Rastignac played by Fernandel, who sets out to conquer Paris, will take a lot of knocks, stumbling on the ice of human relations in this cold city and especially in the crazy world of actors’ ambitions and competition of a Parisian film studio, but he will win because of the qualities opposite to those with which the hero of Balzac’s “human comedy” had cleared his way up - the warmth and naiveté of a grown-up child. And even if the career of the great tragic actor, about which he dreamed in his own Provence, will not be his lot, but he will find himself in comedy, following the example of Molière and Charlie Chaplin. His fiancée, cutter Françoise, will help him accept his new role, explaining that “laughter is part of human nature”.
And of course, they will go to Provence, to his uncle and aunt, who will welcome the children with open arms, knowing nothing about their wealth, and simply rejoicing in their love. Uncle Baptiste is played by Fernand Charpin - an actor of the Marseille variety show, who, along with his many colleagues - Fernandel, Raimu, Delmont, Robert Vattier, Rellys, Blavette, Sardou - with the help of Marcel Pagnol, left the music hall for the film the set. The creation of his own school of film actors from the south, with their ineradicable accent and an experience of popular stage became the foundation of the unique world of Pagnol’s films - and later this world collapsed when, for one reason or another, these actors left it. But in “Le Schpountz”, Pagnol’s cinematic world is still in its infancy: the southern dialect and smiles of Charpin and Fernandel, the unpretentious song of their Marseilles friend, once a bank clerk, and now a screenwriter and operetta writer Jean Manse, will make it tangible and vivid.
Pagnol’s personality is so contradictory both in a creative and social sense that at different stages of history, one or another perspective dominated the perception of his contemporaries. There was a period when he was almost consigned to oblivion, written down as a retrograde and a reactionary. The cinema of Marcel Pagnol owes its revival to the directors of Italian neorealism Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini, who declared him their predecessor, and then to film critics and future creators of the French New Wave, who, on the pages of “Les Cahiers du cinema” magazine, put him in a group of true film auteurs together with Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchcock. Each generation of filmmakers and film lovers perceives his films differently; perhaps we will see him with new eyes as well.