October 7, 2019  (Web Review)

The Baker's Wife

Criterion, 134 min., in French w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Novelist, playwright, and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol is one of the most beloved French artists of the 20th century. For his 1938 film The Baker’s Wife, he adapted a novel by Jean Giono, which he then transformed into a classic Pagnol production filled with social satire and eccentric characters brought to life by his stock company of actors. Raimu, star of Pagnol’s acclaimed “Marseilles Trilogy,” plays the titular bearish but gentle baker in a small village in the South of France, who stops baking when his beautiful young wife (Ginette Leclerc) runs off with a handsome shepherd. It’s a romantic comedy built on foibles and eccentricities, with Raimu as a hearty but naive older man who idealizes his sexually unfulfilled wife. Along the way, there are witty digressions into philosophical and moral discussions on the nature of sin, sex, and human desire by the local leaders, while the villagers also toss in their own judgments as a lively chorus. The sexual politics are certainly chauvinistic and archaic, yet there is a sweetness to the portrait of this unbalanced marriage and a gentle satire to the hypocrisy of the villagers who rally to find the wife solely out of self-interest: the baker refuses to bake as long as she’s gone! The cinematography by Georges Benoît is lovely and bucolic, nicely capturing the pace of village life, where everyone stops to chat in the streets and cafés. A minor but quite enjoyable classic of French cinema, The Baker’s Wife features extras including a 1967 introduction by Pagnol, selected scene audio commentary by Pagnol scholar Brett Bowles, an archival interview with Pagnol, a 1976 news program on the locale where the film was shot, and a booklet with an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)