In a quaint charming village in the French countryside called Castillonnes, the villagers mount a small offensive against the “tacky English tourists” that come to their picturesque town. The town baker even asks his daughter Claudia to bake the bread to be tough and inedible, hoping to deter the foreign visitors.
The tactic doesn’t work, and soon the baker takes more drastic measures: he decides to contaminate his own bread in hopes of making the English tourists sick, and drive them from his business once and for all. Claudia has misgivings about essentially poisoning the tourists, but goes along with her domineering dad.
But he doesn’t count on the handsome English man (and his delightfully impertinent niece) who comes into the shop one afternoon, catching the eye of Claudia and adding a spark of romance to her day. Summoning up the courage to defy her dad, she decides to stand up for her convictions, becoming an unlikely heroine in her own story.
Writer-director Luke Jin’s sumptuous, well-crafted summer romance short adds a acerbic twist to the classic fantasy of the pastoral, pretty French countryside vacation and romantic dalliance.
The visual storytelling retains the pleasure of the fantasy, especially with its lush, warmly rich cinematography and graceful camerawork. It showcases a setting that transports viewers to a beautiful place during a gorgeous season, offering the vicarious pleasure of cinematic travel. Add in the romantic plot for a bit of summertime romance, and it promises the ultimate diversion.
But the sweetness and beauty is livened by the touches of dark, sharp-toothed comedy, with its light but piquant observations upon the age-old rivalry between French and English, and the determined provincialism of the village, who want to be left alone with their bread, fields, and charmingly old-fashioned town.
The comedy isn’t broad, but the writing and performances have an understated astringency to them that adds shadow and dimension to the romance in both the visuals and the story. The tone balances between the sharp and sweet, but eventually still builds to a funny, awkward climax that both pokes fun at the clueless blithe consumption of the tourists and crescendoes into a romantic fantasy that warms the heart.
In many ways, “La Boulangerie” hearkens back to a pre-Tarantino era of modern arthouse cinema, which offered visually resplendent, sweeping stories in often faraway or luxurious European settings. It retains an old-fashioned opulence and charm but mixes in a very modern sly humor, making for a film that is both divertingly entertaining, sweetly romantic and just a touch knowing without being ironic.