La Femme du Boulanger (Marcel Pagnol / France, 1938):

"Ne va pas acheter du pain," as Mallarmé would have it, the joke is that this is The Postman Always Rings Twice from the opposite angle. Morning comes to Pagnolville—a sun-dappled province of affectionate feuds and unadorned medium-shots, priest (Robert Vattier) and schoolteacher (Robert Bassac) are already at it over Joan of Arc. The "village of idiots" enjoys its fougasse, the baker (Raimu) has it down to a fine art but can't possibly function after his wife (Ginette Leclerc) runs off with a hunky shepherd (Charles Moulin). The oven burns up, then goes cold. "Are you a cuckold?" "That's a rich man's word. I'm just unhappy." The rustic scandal is shaped by Pagnol as cozy, communal vaudeville (cf. Ford's Judge Priest), everyone has a turn to add: The curé who helps himself to the events for a puritanical sermon, the hayseed who takes his time spinning his yarn, the ragtag search party that returns full of wine and chumminess, even the restless kitty that mirrors the runaway belle. At the center is the rumpled pathos of the bulbous protagonist, a wounded elephant stumbling through every shade of denial, humiliation, sorrow, humor, wrath, grace. The unblinking camera keeps running as he wavers from blubbering comedy to collapsing tragedy and back, and Raimu just about floods the screen. (Welles' famous admiration is unmistakable in his own tour de force as Falstaff.) "Bread is always bread, the beauty of women is fleeting." Lo Sceicco Bianco and Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir reflect on the ending, and then there's the caustic overhaul of Le Corbeau, Leclerc and all. With Fernand Charpin, Charles Blavette, and Edouard Delmont. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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