Sylvain Chomet, the BAFTA-winning, four-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker of “The Triplets of Belleville” and “The Illusionist,” has partnered up with Mediawan’s ON Kids & Family (“The Little Prince,” “Miraculous”) on his next directorial outing, “The Magnificent Life of Marcel Pagnol.”
The ambitious film is being co-developed and produced by What The Prod, the outfit created and headed by Ashargin Poiré and Valérie Puech, with veteran animation producer Aton Soumache at ON Kids & Family. The project is being presented at Annecy Film Festival with a well-polished, English-speaking teaser.
A modern fable, the animated biopic will chart the epic life of Pagnol, a celebrated French novelist, playwright and filmmaker who grew up in a middle-class household in Marseille and became one of the world’s most inventive and prolific artists from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. Throughout his long career, Pagnol’s books were translated into more than 50 languages and sold more than 150 million units. Pagnol also built his own studio and distribution company, pioneering talking pictures and helping shape the global cinema industry at the time. His movies, including his best-known Provence-set melodrama trilogy “Marius,” “Fanny” and “César,” reached more than 200 admissions worldwide.
“The Magnificent Life of Marcel Pagnol” is a passion project for Chomet, a visionary author and filmmaker whose Oscar-nominated animated films “The Triplets of Belleville” and “The Illusionist” traveled to international festivals (including Cannes, Berlin and Annecy) and established director-driven, hand-drawn, French animation as a gold standard.
Chomet said he was deeply inspired by Pagnol’s deep humanism, audacity and authenticity, and also drawn to the idea of telling the fabulous success story of this artist with a rich historical backdrop depicting the upheavals of the 20th century, notably the rise of fascism in Europe and World War II.
On top of paying tribute to the birth of contemporary filmmaking, the feature will also be a love letter to France, from Pagnol’s sun-drenched native Provence to Paris’s buoyant cultural scene.
“I have always been a great admirer of Marcel Pagnol’s work, so I was immediately won over by the idea of writing
and directing an animated biopic on his life,” said Chomet. “His entire work speaks to us in words relatable to all of us. I want to tell his story, what we know little or less about him, and try to understand and reveal the man behind his work.”
Chomet came up with an original narrative device to tell Pagnol’s life through a dialogue between the grown-up artist and the child he was.
“It is through the innocence of Marcel as a child that I have chosen to express the profoundly human and universal values of the man, because I am convinced that our era needs to return to this poetry and language of humanity,” added Chomet, who will also innovate in terms of animation, with designs which will mirror the different eras and their respective aesthetic style.
Soumache, ON Kids & Family’s founder and president, said, “Pagnol’s pioneering life has been so rich, so intense, that it was the perfect material for a timeless and solar hymn to the cinema, to life and to childhood across frontiers.”
The producer said he aimed for the animated biopic to be as inspirational as Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” about Georges Méliès, or “Aviator” about Howard Hugues.
Ashargin Poiré, co-founder of What The Prod, has cultivated strong bonds with Nicolas Pagnol, the grandson of Marcel Pagnol, who is supporting the project and has allowed the production to access exclusive intimate archive footage of his grandfather.
The footage has been weaved into the animation to create a unique visual style and a rich canvas which is meant to appeal to family audiences, from children to adults.
“Pagnol has been linked to our family since 1942, when my grandfather bought this cinema pioneer’s studios for Gaumont, thus becoming his official distributor. Since then, a sincere friendship was born between the two men, allowing us today to have the trust of Nicolas Pagnol, his grandson, who is accompanying us in this project,” said Poiré.
“Animation was for us the best way to transpose this magic, and Sylvain Chomet’s massive, timeless and universal talent, and his authenticity, will create a wonderful tribute to Pagnol’s life and work,” added Poiré.