FILM: THE BAKER'S WIFE

La femme du boulanger (original title) / 1938 / comedy, drama / 2h 13min / directed by Marcel Pagnol / country: France / language: French / subtitles: English

“A perfectly scandalous story it is, too; the kind of story Frenchmen were born to tell—the French being, as our old school books used to explain, “a gay people, fond of dancing and light wines.” Certainly no other breed could have told it so cutely, with such disarming good humor, with such tolerance and wit.
. . . Marcel Pagnol, the director who filmed “Harvest,” has adapted, written and directed this one too, and with much the same appreciation of his material. His village vignettes are superb and completely revelatory, telling us all we need know about the village and its life, telling it so deftly we scarcely are conscious of his having bothered to describe it. And that is important, for it is the human background, more than the architectural, that must highlight his comedy of the community problem created by the scandalous—and terribly inconvenient—defection of the baker’s wife. After all, even a righteous curate must have bread, and even a profligate marquis and an heretical school teacher: in the face of a common emergency they must set aside their normal enmity and combine against the foe: pantheists for once.But the bulwark of the comedy, of course, is the baker himself, the great god Pan who goes by the name of Raimu. An Olympian clown Raimu, with an equatorial waistline, a buttony mustache, a foolscap of knitted wool and the true clown’s genius for pathos. There is something Chaplinesque about his inability to recognize the harshness of the world . . .”
Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, 1940

The warmth and wit of celebrated playwright turned auteur Marcel Pagnol (The Marseille Trilogy) shines through in this enchanting slice-of-life comedy. Returning once again to the Provençal countryside he knew intimately, Pagnol draws a vivid portrait of a close-knit village where the marital woes of a sweetly deluded baker (the inimitable Raimu, heralded by no less than Orson Welles as “the greatest actor who ever lived”) snowball into a scandal that engulfs the entire town. Marrying the director’s abiding concern for the experiences of ordinary people with an understated but superbly judged visual style, The Baker’s Wife is at once wonderfully droll and piercingly perceptive in its nuanced treatment of the complexities of human relationships.

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