Born in Aubagne on February 1895, son of Joseph Pagnol and Augustine Lansot, Marcel Pagnol had a classical and republican education, tinged with anticlericalism. As the son of a schoolmaster, from a very early age he developed a passion for classics and created at the age of 19 the literary magazine "FORTUNIO", in which were released critical reviews on drama plays and lyrical works as well as a serial novel called "PIROUETTES".
In 1916, he began his career as a teacher. He was appointed as tutor in Digne, Pamier, Tarascon and Paris in 1922. During his spare time, he would write verse drama, ancient drama plays.
Once in the capital city, the young author met up again with his friend Paul Nivoix, with whom he wrote "LES MARCHANDS DE GLOIRE" ("MERCHANTS OF GLORY") in 1924. But the play remained unsuccessful even though praised by critics. At that time, his friends were Marcel Achard, Henri Jeanson, Joseph Kessel. They would meet every evening to discuss their writings.
In 1926, his new play "JAZZ" was created in Théâtre de Monte-Carlo. It was a great success which launched his career. Later, he wrote three of the most successful plays in French drama: "TOPAZE" in 1928, "MARIUS" in 1929, "FANNY" in 1931. On the same year, his meeting with Bob Kane, manager of Paramount France, enabled him to have "MARIUS" shown on screen. It was a tremendous success and talking films were expanding rapidly. Therefore Marcel Pagnol decided to create his own production company and to drop drama. A page had been turned, he founded his own studios in Marseille and a magazine called "LES CAHIERS DU FILM" to spread his conception of the art of filmmaking: dialogue must prevail over image. Thereby, he introduced the preeminence of the author over the director. This might appear rather insignificant today, but in the thirties theories related to cinema derived directly from silent films and the director was omnipotent.
He devoted his work to that new means of expression until 1924, produced and directed more than twenty films: "FANNY", "TOPAZE", "ANGELE", "CESAR", "LA FILLE DU PUISATIER" ("THE WELL DIGGER'S DAUGHTER"), "LA FEMME DU BOULANGER" ("THE BAKER'S WIFE"), "REGAIN" ("HARVEST"), "MANON DES SOURCES" ("MANON OF THE SPRING"), "NAÏS", etc... In 1946, he was the first filmmaker elected as member of the Académie Française. He started spending more and more time with writers and began writing in prose. He began with his memories of filmmaking "CINEMATURGIE DE PARIS" ("FILMMAKING IN PARIS"), continued with vicious attacks against critics "CRITIQUE DES CRITIQUES" ("CRITIQUE ON CRITICS") and with an essay on the mechanism of laughter, "NOTES SUR LE RIRE" ("NOTES ON LAUGHTER").
In 1955, he stopped making films for personal reasons. After a brief return to drama with "JUDAS" and "FABIEN", he engaged in the writing of his "SOUVENIRS D'ENFANCE" ("MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD"): "LA GLOIRE DE MON PERE" ("MY FATHER'S GLORY") and "LE CHATEAU DE MA MERE" ("MY MOTHER'S CASTLE"). Then he wrote "L'EAU DES COLLINES" ("THE WATER OF THE HILLS") comprising "MANON DES SOURCES" ("MANON OF THE SPRING") and "JEAN DE FLORETTE", followed by "CONFIDENCES" ("SECRETS REVEALED"), "LE TEMPS DES SECRETS" ("THE TIME OF SECRETS"). He translated "LES BUCOLIQUES" ("THE BOOK OF BUCOLICS") by Virgil and "LE SONGE D'UNE NUIT D'ETE" ("A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM") by Shakespeare, wrote a historical essay on the iron mask mystery. Finally, he worked on the last volume of his memories of childhood, "LE TEMPS DES AMOURS" ("THE TIME OF LOVE"), which remained unfinished.
He passed away in Paris on April 18th, 1974.
His life as a whole shows that means of expression mattered little to Marcel Pagnol. He was only interested in the freedom of creation. Therefore he deserted the chores of drama to enjoy the freedom of direction provided by camera. Then, in days when filmmaking had become too tedious a work, he preferred his Sergent Major dip pen, his inkpot and a white sheet. For him, drama and cinema were only minor arts, tools serving for dramatic art the way the pen is only a tool for the writer.
Such a rejection of the enslavement of creation by techniques led him, as early as 1933, to shoot his films on location and to bestow privilege to natural situations and actors performance. Indeed, Roberto Rossellini and De Sica said of him that he was the father of neorealism. His work is marked by an extraordinary understanding of the human being. Never does he blame or judge his characters. Each one has a chance, a story, the worst actions are always forgiven, man is never in control of his destiny. Director Jean-Charles Tacchella defines Pagnol's cinema as follows: "This is what Pagnol taught us: after watching one of his films, you felt happy. Sometimes you even believed you were a better person".
Another constant feature of Marcel Pagnol's work is the way it is rooted in Southern France. Yet, eluding the traps of regionalism, he turned that region into the centre of the world, giving his characters and themes a universal dimension, as he did with Marius, a young man in search of his own self, attracted by remote places and held back by love; with Fanny, sacrificing her life to bring happiness to the man she loves.
Marcel Pagnol's work was adapted across the whole world: Egypt, China and England with "TOPAZE", Japan with two adaptations of "MARIUS", United States with "MARIUS" and "FANNY". His books have been translated into more than ten languages, and foreign schools use excerpts of "SOUVENIRS D'ENFANCE" ("MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD") and the "TRILOGIE" ("TRILOGY") to teach French language.
Playwright, novelist, filmmaker, essayist, lampoonist, historian and also manager of studios and distribution offices, producer, press manager... Above all he was an interested man, enlightened on all things, the way a scientist was in the Age of the Enlightenment.