The Bakery Girl of Monceau (La Boulangère de Monceau) [DVD]
Director : Eric Rohmer
Screenplay : Eric Rohmer
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1962
Stars : Barbet Schroeder (Young Man), Claudine Soubrier (Jacqueline), Michèle Girardon (Sylvie), Bertrand Tavernier (Narrator)
Eric Rohmer’s short film The Bakery Girl of Monceau (La Boulangère de Monceau), the first of his “Six Moral Tales,” is about a young man caught between two women: one of whom he wants and the other of whom he can have. Rohmer sets it up as a classic moral predicament in which the young man can either risk chasing an enigma that may end in failure or settle for something that is assured, but less desirable. If this sounds vaguely misogynistic, with the women as little more than pawns of male desire, that is only on the surface. Rohmer is most interested in the dilemma itself--what decision the young man will make and, even more importantly, how he will justify it as a moral one.
This dilemma--a man choosing between two women--became the core of all of Rohmer’s “Moral Tales,” which makes The Bakery Girl of Monceau an extremely important film. Rohmer had already written all of the stories that would eventually comprise the “Moral Tales” when he shot the film, but the manner in which The Bakery Girl of Monceau distills the central dilemma into such primal terms makes it appear as though he were purposefully setting up a theme that would be dissected in more detail and with more complexities later on.
Rohmer was a unique filmmaker in that, unlike the others associated with the French New Wave (especially Jean-Luc Godard), he remained absolutely, resolutely unchanged in both his style and his thematic material. Perhaps this is because he was older when he began filmmaking (he was already 40 when the New Wave took off) and had been writing for the film journal Cahiers du cinéma for a decade (he also edited it from 1957 to 1963). He had already passed through the stage of brash, angry youth that gave Godard’s films their bite and daring, and as a result only François Truffaut, with his Antoine Doinel films, was anywhere near as consistent.
The star of The Bakery Girl of Monceau is Barbet Schroeder, a young producer who had formed a production company, Les Films du Losange, with Rohmer the year before (Schroeder would go on to produce all of Rohmer’s “Moral Tales” and become a notable feature film and documentary director). Interestingly enough, his character’s off-screen narration is actually performed by Bertrand Tavernier, a law student who would also go on to become a notable director with such films as Coup de torchon (1981) and It All Starts Today (1999).
Schroeder plays an unnamed young man who becomes fascinated with a woman named Sylvie (Michèle Girardon, who debuted in Luis Buñuel’s 1956 film La Mort en ce jardin). After a brief meeting that produces the possibility of a date, the young man hopes to see her again and purposefully walks in the areas where he is most likely to run into her. He gets into the habit of going into the same bakery each day to buy a cookie, where he meets Jacqueline (Claudine Soubrier), the young woman who works behind the counter. Jacqueline is clearly interested in him, but she is not “his type.” Yet, Sylvie, the object of his affection, has seemingly disappeared, and he is left with the choice of giving in to the affections of flesh and blood or holding out for someone who may be a ghost.
Rohmer had already directed one feature, 1959’s Le Signe du lion, which was a commercial failure. Thus, he was hardly a novice filmmaker, but you might mistake him for one after watching The Bakery Girl of Monceau, which is only 23 minutes long and was shot on 16mm without synch sound. It is not a particularly great film, either stylistically or emotionally. Rohmer seems to be unsure of exactly how he wants the film to play, as he rather haphazardly punctuates his traditionally invisible style with brief jump cuts and sudden zooms that draw undue attention to themselves. Yet, even despite these aesthetic failings, The Bakery Girl of Monceau is an intriguing film, even if its importance will forever lie in how it established the path for greater things to come.
|The Bakery Girl of Monceau Criterion Collection DVD|
|The Bakery Girl of Monceau is available exclusively as part of the Criterion Collection’s six-disc box set “Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales,” which also includes Suzanne’s Career, La Collectionneuse, My Night at Maud’s, Claire’s Knee, and Love in the Afternoon. In addition to supplements on each disc, the box set includes a paperback of the original stories by Eric Rohmer, as well as an insert booklet featuring Rohmer’s landmark essay “For a Talking Cinema,” excerpts from cinematographer Nestor Almendros’s autobiography, and new essays by Geoff Andrew, Ginette Vincendeau, Phillip Lopate, Kent Jones, Molly Haskell, and Armond White.|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|SRP||$99.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||August 15, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The new high-definition transfer of The Bakery Girl of Monceau was taken from a 35mm duplicate negative and approved by director Eric Rohmer. The MTI Digital Restoration System was used to clean up the image, and it looks better than it ever has on home video, with good detail and nice contrast. The fact that the transfer was made from a 35mm duplicate negative, which means it was blown-up from the original 16mm, exaggerates some of the grain and imperfections of the original medium. There are also some black vertical lines from time to time that could not be digitally removed, as well as some hairs caught in the camera gate that are clearly inherent to the image. Like all the films in this box set, The Bakery Girl of Monceauis windowboxed. The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the optical soundtrack negative. It sounds as good as it ever will given the fact that all the sound effects and dialogue were recorded in post.|
|There are two supplements included on this disc, and both are well worth the time spent. The first is Eric Rohmer’s rarely seen 10-minute short film Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak, which was made in 1951 and stars a young Jean-Luc Godard. The second supplement on the disc is a new video conversation between Barbet Schroeder and Eric Rohmer titled “Moral Tales, Filmic Issues.” Running a solid 84 minutes, this is a lengthy and in-depth conversation indeed, with Schroeder and Rohmer discussing everything from Rohmer’s literary style, to the use of voice-over narration, to the true meaning of the word moral in “Moral Tales,” to Rohmer’s preference for the Academy aspect ratio, to the future of digital cinema. The length and depth of this interview is a real treat because Rohmer spent many years resisting interviews about himself and his works.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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