Cigalon (1935)



Cigalon photo
Cigalon manages a restaurant in a small town in Provence. A chef with a high opinion of his past culinary achievements, he makes no effort to attract customers and is rude to those who venture into his establishment expecting to be fed. To Cigalon, gastronomy is the greatest of all the arts, and so he is naturally aghast when a former laundress named Madame Toffi opens a restaurant nextdoor to his. Madame Toffi does not share his elevated notions and intends to serve meals to the general public - an appalling prospect!   Whilst Cigalon's restaurant remains empty, Madame Toffi's is always busy. To prove he is the better chef, Cigalon must now start catering for paying customers. Fortune smiles on him when a well-dressed man, possibly of noble blood, arrives in a taxi outside his restaurant. Seizing his chance, Cigalon accosts the man and offers him a feast fit for a king. It is with horror that the chef discovers that his customer hasn't the means to pay for his gargantuan repast. The obvious thing to do is for him to call in the police, but Cigalon knows that if he does this he will only signal his defeat to the loathsome Madame Toffi...
© 2013

Film Review

Film poster
Too easily overlooked, the tasty little morsel that is Cigalon is one of Marcel Pagnol's more accessible films, a succulent comedy that is not so much a farce as a humorous fable, with a particularly cruel sting in the tail. Pagnol was inspired to make the film after encountering a pompous restaurateur in La Treille, in the outskirts of Marseille, who took a sadistic pleasure in being rude to his customers. After the serious drama Angèle (1934), Pagnol was keen to make a comedy which would allow him to try out a new sound recording system. Pagnol's first attempt to shoot Cigalon was not a success. The sound system proved to be defective and the director had no recourse but to shoot the film again, taking the opportunity to recast most of the roles.

In the film's remount, the principal role of Cigalon, a chef with the mother of all Napoleon complexes, went to Alexandre Arnaudy, replacing Henri Poupon who was re-cast as the penniless bon vivant. A larger-than-life performer, Arnaudy had recently taken the lead in a stage production of Pagnol's play Topaze and would memorably reprise the role in the director's first screen version of the play in 1936. Perfectly ensconced in the main female role, the formidable Madame Toffi, is the singer-actress Marguerite Chabert, who played Honorine in the original 1931 stage production of Fanny at the Théâtre de Paris. Pagnol would later give Chabert a small but memorable role in Regain (1937).

After the immense success of Angèle, the film that established Pagnol as a film director, Cigalon was to prove a bitter flop. The critics were unkind to Arnaudy, judging his performance to be excessive, and audiences failed to warm to Pagnol's idea of comedy. Totally eclipsed by the string of masterpieces that Pagnol went on to make afterwards, Cigalon has long been considered a minor work in the director's oeuvre, yet it is not without charm. A kind of 1930s Provençal version of Fawlty Towers (with a plot that spookily resembles one episode in the BBC series), Cigalon contains some of Pagnol's funniest lines and most colourful characters. If nothing else, it is the perfect appetiser for Pagnol's more wholesome cinematic banquets. Bon appetit!
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The director Marcel Pagnol also worked with the actor Henri Poupon on the films Jofroi (1933), Angèle (1934) and Merlusse (1935).

Film Credits

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