After a glorious summer holiday in the hills of Provence, young Marcel Pagnol (Julien Ciamaca) returns home with his schoolteacher father Joseph (Philippe Caubère) and loving mother Augustine (Nathalie Roussel). Yet his heart pines for the countryside making it hard for him to stay focused studying for his all-important exams. So Augustine cunningly sets in motion a series of events that enable her husband to have weekends free to bring the family back to Provence. They share a cosy Christmas reunion with country boy Lili (Joris Molinas) and affable Uncle Julies (Didier Pain). Joseph also runs into his old friend Bouzigue (Philippe Uchan) whom he helped pass an exam. The grateful man tells Joseph about a secret shortcut to their holiday home. To shorten their two-hour long journey down to twenty minutes the Pagnol family sneak across the grounds of a palatial mansion that belong to an ageing aristocrat. Yet this innocent deception turns out to have unforeseen consequences.
Le Chateau de Ma Mère was the second half of Yves Robert's two part biopic about the childhood of French national treasure, playwright, novelist and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol. Its predecessor La Gloire de Mon Pere was a glorified travelogue, virtually plot-less yet captivating. Robert's stunning evocation of bucolic splendour of the France's Provencal region drew an enthusiastic audience who made this the highest grossing French film of 1990. Part two has more substance along with a darker more melancholic tone. Marcel is no longer simply a wide-eyed little boy smitten with the beautiful countryside but well on the path towards maturity. He starts to see the world through an adult's eyes, laden with beauty yes but equally capable of deceit and outright cruelty. Robert makes it clear the characters Marcel encounters here, including wily and good-natured Bouzigue, the absinthe-addled literary poseur (Jean Rochefort) and the mean-spirited country policeman (Jean Carmet), played a major part in shaping his fictional universe. Le Chateau de Ma Mère details how the loss of childhood shapes an artist through his concerted efforts to somehow regain, reshape and learn something from the past.
Once again the tone is set by Vladimir Cosma's achingly lovely score which provides a stirring accompaniment to the spectacular images so beguilingly photographed by D.P. Robert Alazraki. When the adult Marcel Pagnol (Jean-Pierre Darras) describes the hills of Provence as the love of his life, we know grow to understand exactly how he feels. Perhaps the film's chief accomplishment is the deftness with which Robert interweaves Pagnol's love of nature with a love of art, poetry, music and eventually romance itself. For in this installment Marcel falls in love for the first time with a charming but snooty young girl named Isabelle, brought vividly to life by the enchantingly elfin Julie Timmerman. Devoted at first, Marcel feels put out when his petulant pre-teen paramour goes from play acting the princess to his knight to making him bark like a dog and eat bugs for her childish amusement. When reality proves disappointing he returns to his first love, the countryside.
Although episodic as before the sequel is faster paced with an almost comic strip like procession of gentle, often charming gags. An engaging cast invest their roles with tremendous conviviality whilst etching characters that are believably flawed. As the title suggests the film is as much an ode to Pagnol's mother and her influence in shaping his profoundly humanistic outlook as it is a celebration of Provence. It retains a fundamentally benign view of life leaving the Pagnol's attempt to sneak across the rich man's land as the closest thing to dramatic tension. Events take a decidedly melancholy turn throughout the coda visiting tragic fates upon almost all the principal characters save Pagnol who brings the story full circle as an established filmmaker revisiting his youth. In fact the finale is deeply haunting and affecting in light of the jovial tone of the first film, underlining the fevered desire of the artist to somehow twist the past toward a happier outcome.