My Mother's Castle'depicts an exceedingly pleasant childhood

November 29, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I hate this guy Marcel Pagnol.What a wonderful childhood he had! Who couldn't turn out great and end up in the snooty-tooty French Academy with a childhood like that? But what about the rest of us, with our normal, crummy childhoods? It isn't fair.

The second installment in Pagnol's wondrous youth has just reached the Charles, following on the heels of the first. "My Mother's Castle" follows on "My Father's Glory" so exactly, in fact, that it begins on the same day where the first one ended. And then it goes on to spend an hour and a half examining the sheer pleasure Marcel Pagnol took in being Marcel Pagnol.

"La Chateau de Ma Mere" is no "A la recherche du temps perdu"; it's not even "A la recherche du Frank Perdue." It is an exceedingly mild and even puppy-like memoir, untouched by pain or doubt or loss, of a childhood as sunny as any on earth. This film, alas, has the wonderful sense of nostalgia for a lost world as "My Father's Glory," but it does lack the former's considerable narrative force.

"My Father" was set around a hunting trip and told of young Marcel's terror that his father would not prove up to snuff in the manly world of hunting and of the boy's pleasure when dad did; "My Mother," by contrast, is about a walk in the country.

It seems that to get to their beloved Provence country shack, the Pagnol clan had to detour around several estates that blew a 20-minute walk into a six-hour one. In this installment of the story, the family is offered a chance to slip across the estates by a canal worker, which makes their quite easy lives even easier.

Alas, they get caught by an officious watchman, and for a few terrifying moments -- maybe three, or possibly four -- papa thinks the man will make a report, which means he'll lose his job. But the crisis is ended when the canal man and his buddies find the watchman and bluff him into not making the report.

Not making the report! How about that for a climax? He doesn't make the report. Mon dieu! Marcel! Et bien! Sacre bleu, mon ami!

And that's it. Or, as we say in La France, Fin.

The movie ends on a really powerful moment . . . NOT! See, when he's a millionaire movie producer-director, the grown up Marcel goes back and buys the estate! Then he fires the watchman. Drives him out in the rain without pity and he dies an alcoholic, his children go to an orphanage and on to a life of crime.

Of course they don't. What happens is, Marcel gets richer and happier until at last he is the richest and happiest man in the world.

Is France a great country, or what?

My Mother's Castle'

Starring Philippe Caubere and Nathalie Roussel.

Directed by Yves Robert.

Released by Orion.

Rated PG.

** 1/2

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