The Baker’s Wife at the BAMPFA

The first thing you should know about Marcel Pagnol’s 1938 comedy, The Baker’s Wife, is that it’s very, very funny. The second thing you need to know is that it’s also sweet and humane, especially as this story of adultery in provincial France comes to its end.

My wife and I saw it at the BAMPFA Saturday evening. This was one of the museum’s Film to Table dinners, where people willing to pay the price can have a movie followed by a four-course meal. And no, we didn’t pay the price. We had other things to do and, I’m not much into big gourmet meals.

This utterly charming French film takes place in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. The people are deeply religious; the young priest chides the schoolteacher for telling his students that Joan of Arc merely thought she heard voices. (I suspect Pagnol cast the youthful Robert Vattier as the priest to highlight the character’s obvious virginity.)

The film starts the day a new bakery opens (there is no other), and the town happily welcomes the establishment and the couple that have moved into town to run it. But the husband is overweight, slovenly, and probably three times as old as his beautiful wife. She gets one look at a handsome shepherd, and off she goes.

The husband, appropriately named Aimable (played by Raimu) sees the best in everyone. Surely she has a good reason for leaving town. It takes a long time for him to accept what has happened. When he does, he stops working. Why make bread for your neighbors if your beloved wife has run away?

This mobilizes the town. They  need bread! Of course, the men are all drunk, which makes the mobilization extremely disorganized. As I said, it’s a very funny movie. But it’s also one flowing with kindness.

I give The Baker’s Wife an A.

The film recently received a digital 4K restoration. The DCP looked very much like a pristine print of a French film of the 1930s – except that it was steadier, and the subtitles were slightly easier to read.

The BAMPFA will screen The Baker’s Wife one more time (without the dinner). That’s next Friday, May 17, at 7:00. But this time, there’s no meal.

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