A young boy's life in turn-of-the-century France. Marcel, witnesses the success of his teacher father, as well as the success of his arrogant Uncle Jules. Marcel and family spend their summer vacation in a cottage in Provence, and Marcel befriends a local boy who teaches him the secrets of the hills in Provence.
In the memoirs of French author Marcel Pagnol, he recalls his idyllic childhood days in rural Provence spent in a villa with his parents, younger brother, and aunt and uncle. As a city boy at the turn of the 20th century, he discovers the joys of rustic life and makes friends with both the landscape and the people. His father, a schoolteacher, sees the benefit of experience outside the classroom and surprises everyone.
Marcel Pagnol, the author of famous and beloved French films such as Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources and member of the prestigious Académie Française, wrote a charming set of memoirs that were translated into English as My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle. Yves Robert made them into two films whose gentle humor and nostalgia for a bygone age will charm everyone who watches them.
Marcel was born in the Aubagne in southern France at the turn of the 20th century, son of Joseph (Philippe Cauberre), a schoolteacher, and the radiant Augustine (Nathalie Roussel). Precocious, Marcel was only four when he surprised everyone in his father’s classroom by reading aloud the blackboard. Though his mother feared his brain would overheat, Marcel continued to read everything he could get his hands on, including cookbooks. Later he enjoyed being taken to the park by his Aunt Rose (Thérèse Liotard), until one day when their habitual bench is taken by a stranger (Didier Pain).
Aunt Rose’s visits to the park become more frequent, though Marcel is sworn to silence because he has been told the stranger owns the park. He is hurt later when Uncle Jules admits to having told a white lie. In any case, Rose and Jules are married. It isn’t long before Marcel (Julien Ciamaca) and his younger brother Paul are joined by a baby sister and a cousin. Marcel progresses well at school; his father is his intellectual idol, and he dotes on his fragile mother.
One day, Joseph announces to the children that he and Uncle Jules have gone half-and-half on a villa in the country where they will spend their school vacations. Their first trip to les Bellons is a trek, being driven with their furniture and luggage by a local farmer. Once Marcel sees the magnificent landscape, though, he falls in love forever. His and Paul’s days are taken up hunting butterflies and cicadas. Then comes the opening of the hunting season. Uncle Jules tells the tale of the reclusive bartavelle (rock partridge). Marcel, fearing for the honor of his father, determines that the inexperienced Joseph will shoot one!
Marcel secretly accompanies his father and uncle on their hunting expedition, gets lost and separated and gives himself up for dead. Then he meets Lili, a local boy checking his snares. Marcel eventually finds his father and uncle and drives some rock partridges toward them. His father successfully shoots them and garners the affection and awe of all, even going into town with a brace of them on his belt and showing them off to all the town-folk. He and Marcel are even photographed with them.
As the summer draws to a close, Lili and Marcel have many more adventures, but Marcel’s family must return in September to the city. Marcel, hurt that even Paul has resigned himself to leaving their country paradise, determines to become a hermit and stay in the hills. He will live in a cave near a spring, aided in secret by Lili, and sharing his refuge with a predatory owl called the Great Duke. Will Marcel get left behind in Aubagne? Will his family persuade him to go home? Or will be attacked in the cave before anyone can rescue him?
My Father’s Glory is a very simple film, but it is told in a warm manner that not only reminds one of one’s own childhood, but gives an interesting insight into the mores and manners of the year 1900, a time not so different, perhaps, from our own. I would compare it to Jean Sheppherd’s cult classic A Christmas Story in its ability to make wry, humorous comments about children and adults alike, and yet retain childlike wonder for the loves that stay with us all our lives.
Marcel’s love for his father and his determination that he conquer his skeptics as a hunter as well as a schoolteacher is touching and completely understandable. Marcel’s adoration of his mother may strike modern audiences as a bit Oedipal, but having read the memoirs, I understand it is linked to her premature death. Marcel and Paul as a double act are hilarious, and the love story between Uncle Jules and Aunt Rose is very sweet and picturesque.
The cinematography, costumes, and music are all top-notch and contribute considerably to creating a seamless vision of Marseilles and especially the Aubagne over a hundred years ago. The filmmakers are just in love with this mountain landscape as was Marcel Pagnol, and the wistful nostalgia seems to invite us all to spend our vacations near les Bellons.