Annecy 2021 – Marcel and Monsieur Pagnol: “Pagnol’s life is a story of cinema”

The producers detail this animated biopic by Sylvain Chomet, which will be released in two years.

Big project, big ambitions. Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist, The Triplets of Belleville or The old lady and the pigeons) will soon return to the big screen with Marcel and Monsieur Pagnol, an animated biopic that will retrace the crazy life of Marcel Pagnol, through his meeting with his childish double. From Provence to Paris, the author, producer and director crossed a twentieth century agitated by the great upheavals of history and the evolution of the film industry. The producers of the project, Aton Soumache (president and founder of On kids & family) and Ashargin Poiré (What The Prod), tell us about the genesis and aspirations of this 15 million euro feature film.

Was the animated biopic your first idea?

Ashargin Poiré: No, because at the start we wanted to make an innovative documentary on Marcel Pagnol, telling his life in a lively and modern way, in first person. And it turns out that Nicolas Pagnol, his grandson, also wanted to do a biopic. I know him well since my grandfather, Alain Poiré, bought the Marcel Pagnol studios for Gaumont in 1942. Pagnol sold them because the Germans wanted to force him to distribute all their propaganda films. It was the largest distributor at the time and employed two hundred people: it had distribution studios, film sets, a film laboratory … The trigger for this project was when Nicolas Pagnol told us about it. advised to read Confidences, an autobiographical work in which Marcel recounts the moment he went to Paris. His ambition was to become a great author, but he didn’t know how. There, he met up with Marseille friends and discovered Parisian life and the world of theater. And it soon became clear that to tell his life story, we couldn’t turn to live-action fiction.

Because it was potentially too complicated and maybe a little academic?

Ashargin Poiré: The academic side didn’t bother me more than that, but there was the challenge of accent. And what bothered us the most was who was going to play Raimu and Fernandel. Who can do that? Which actor will play one of the greatest actors?

Aton Soumache: We revive legends, which the live could never have done. In real shots, the casting would be impossible!

Ashargin Poiré: So we started with the animation and we made a pilot, to see if we could really do this biopic that way, and to realize if the animation would stick to Pagnol’s universe. At the time, the project was called Pagnol the magician. But the movie changed a bit and became Marcel and Mr. Pagnol : that makes a lot of sense since at the beginning of our history, Pagnol stopped the cinema, and the magazine It orders him to write his childhood memories. He has trouble remembering it and little Marcel, a child, appears to him. He will take him back to the past to relive his entire journey and find his roots, where he comes from and how he became an author. Everything he went through, everything that touched him … But also the ghosts of his mother and his brother, who accompanied him all his life.

Does the film focus on Pagnol’s artistic career or his personal life?

Ashargin Poiré: Both, but the majority of the film is about his professional career, how he becomes a great author and discovers talking cinema. And we use the magic of animation – its charm and its universal, very visual and symbolic side – to recreate the actors and the big names of this period. Because Pagnol’s life is a story of cinema.

Aton Soumache: Sylvain Chomet did a very important artistic and graphic work. There is obviously a documentary base, a bit of a biopic, but the idea is to go beyond that. Our mission – as Scorsese did on Méliès with Hugo cabret or Howard Hugues with Aviator -, it is to find a very original way of going through Pagnol’s life. The animated biopic is a form that has strangely never been used. All the more so by an animation genius like Sylvain Chomet: Marcel and Monsieur Pagnol, it is the silence of Chomet which meets the banter of Pagnol! We see Pagnol at all stages of his life, which gives the public many entry points. It’s a family film, which speaks to everyone. And what is great is that we have access to all the bibliographic material and to all assets by Nicolas Pagnol: we will find the real documentary elements – posters, plays – and even black and white film archives. When Pagnol watches his films, they are really his own films!

A strong visual choice, to mix animation and real extracts from Pagnol’s feature films. Not necessarily obvious.

Aton Soumache: It’s the cinema that watches the cinema, as in The Artist. There is a rather fragile balance between the documentary base – the reality – and this transcendence brought by the magic of animation. We are inspired by important moments in his life and he happens to be someone who has crossed the history of technology, of modernity. He saw the world change in incredible ways accompanied it all as a pioneer and adventurer. This film is a way of revisiting our history of cinema in a heritage way. It is a fate and an epic.

When did Sylvain Chomet impose himself on directing?

Ashargin Poiré: We wanted a real artistic proposal to talk about one of the masters of cinema. We thought of Joann Sfar, because we loved it Gainsbourg (heroic life). We knew he loved Pagnol but he was starting to prepare for a shoot, so it was not possible to work together. But he and Sylvain Chomet have the same agent, and it is the latter who proposed it to us. It turns out that Pagnol was Sylvain’s favorite author. After meeting, we immediately decided to work together.

The dialogues did not scare him?

Ashargin Poiré: No, at all. And then he was already writing some for his comics.

Aton Soumache: I think the fact that it was Pagnol made him uninhibited, because he is an absolute reference in the field.

From what I could see, the style of Chomet is very present and at the same time the film tends towards something else.

Aton Soumache: I would say that it is solar Chomet, Chomet who speaks and who is exposed to the sun. He brings a part of Pagnol home, but in the same movement, Pagnol also goes to Chomet. I was very surprised with this mix when I saw the pilot.

Do you already have actors in sight for the dubbing?

Aton Soumache: We are in the process of thinking about this. We think we are going to look for actors of the quality of Edouard Baer. We have a lot and desire and we hope to form a sublime cast. You just have to try to find relevant actors for each role.

When will we be able to see Marcel and Monsieur Pagnol in the rooms ?

Aton Soumache: Within two years. We are at the start of funding for the moment, and Sylvain Chomet is already working actively. In all, 300-400 people will work on the film, of which a hundred or so will be involved for a very long time. We will take the time it takes.

You are also targeting the international market. What does that change in the making of the film?

Aton Soumache: It shouldn’t be purely Franco-French, since the film should speak to the whole world. I want children and young adults who don’t know Pagnol to have an experience. We have worked a lot to ensure that the film is referenced, but that the audience does not necessarily need these references to be crossed by the emotions of the film. If you know Fernandel, obviously it’s definitely more fun. But Marcel and Monsieur Pagnol also works on very strong universal character codes.

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