"CÉSAR: You know, Marius, a woman's honor is like a match. You can only use it once." (Charles Boyer in Fanny, 1961)
When my husband and I were renting a car in Toulouse, we were asked if we were going into Marseille because, if we were, we needed to purchase extra insurance. We assumed that this was because Marseille was an especially hazardous place; our plans had not included venturing there, anyway. In spite of its perilous reputation, Marseille, the ancient port city founded by the Greeks, would be fascinating to visit. Of the many films that take place in Marseille, my favorite is Fanny, based upon the musical of the same name. Both film and musical were taken from a trilogy of plays by French writer Marcel Pagnol. Leslie Caron is radiant in the title role; Horst Buchholz plays the intense Marius, torn between love for Fanny and a desire to see the world. Maurice Chevalier is Panisse, the well-to-do elderly merchant who marries Fanny and adopts her baby as his own. The best of all is Charles Boyer as César, Marius' father. In his earlier roles Boyer was so handsome and suave that it distracted from his acting abilities. As the crusty, aging owner of the waterfront café, he shines with earthy wisdom, and becomes the conscience for the other characters.
In an effort to keep Marius from going to sea, Fanny gives herself to him, to no avail. Seeing that he is aching to leave Marseille, she releases him from their engagement. He is unaware that she is with child. Fanny is covered with shame and regret. Truly resplendent is the scene in which Fanny visits the cathedral to beg forgiveness, imploring the Holy Virgin for guidance. She decides to do what will be best for the baby and marry the worthy Panisse. Panisse showers Fanny and her son with love and care. When Marius returns and Fanny is tempted to betray Panisse, she chooses honor and duty over passion. She has learned her lesson. And yet, throughout the film, her eyes convey longing for Marius and her sorrow over losing him. But all is not lost; her sacrifices are abundantly rewarded.
The film shows how the coming of a child can be the catalyst for positive change in many lives, even though the original circumstances were far from ideal. By surrendering to God, Fanny's fall from grace is transformed into a channel of blessings. Share