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  • The baker’s routine gestures: a pro­fes­sio­nal ‘classic’?


    Lorenzo Bonoli

    In contemporary cinema, we often don’t question seemingly cliché images of bakers at work as seen in Antoine Fontaine's "Gemma Bovery" (2014) or Luke Jin's short film "La Boulangerie" (2017), but perhaps we should.

    When watching a baker kneading dough, putting loaves in the oven, taking them out and then putting them on display, we can’t help but recognise his gestures as universal, inextri­ca­b­ly linked for us to the idea we have of his pro­fes­si­on. And yet… for decades, bread has been produced in factories where workers no longer “put their hands in the dough” but dedicate them­sel­ves to using machines.

    How is it possible that films that represent con­tem­pora­ry life still show images of these gestures as if they were still part of the essence of bre­ad­ma­king today despite being rare in reality? And above all: How is it possible that these bakers are not perceived as relics of a bygone era, yet still seem relevant today? In both films mentioned, these pro­fes­sio­nal tech­ni­ques lend the prot­ago­nists a certain authority; their pro­fes­sio­nal com­pe­tence earns the bakers the respect or admi­ra­ti­on of the other cha­rac­ters in the film.

    One could even say that these routine gestures are “classics” like in lite­ra­tu­re. As the phi­lo­so­pher Hans-Georg Gadamer has pointed out, the special feature of classics is that they last through the ages and always remain relevant — making the baker’s gestures classics. The classic dimension of these gestures is based on several factors. Firstly, on their reco­gnisa­bi­li­ty: every spectator will quickly recognise the gesture of kneading dough, even if they have never done it them­sel­ves or watched a pro­fes­sio­nal doing it. Secondly, their essen­tia­li­sa­ti­on: these gestures are reco­gnis­ed as quint­essen­ti­al of the trade, regard­less of the omni­pre­sence of indus­tri­al bre­ad­ma­king. Finally, their valo­ri­sa­ti­on: they are con­si­de­red noble skills that demons­tra­te an admirable know-how and deserve the respect of all bread lovers.

    The question that arises is this: How have the baker’s gestures become timeless classics? For other craft practices which have also been replaced by indus­tria­li­sa­ti­on such as tanning or weaving this was not the case. These pro­fes­si­ons haven’t found their way into com­mer­cials or movies but instead are portrayed in docu­men­ta­ries as a dying breed. Why is the baking pro­fes­si­on different?

    To answer this question, we have to go back to the film “Gemma Bovery” and listen to the baker, played by Fabrice Lucchini. In a scene in the bakery, Lucchini explains to the beautiful Gemma (Gemma Arterton) while she is sen­suous­ly kneading dough: “to touch bread is to touch the earth. The original crust from which life emerged”. The classical dimension of these gestures thus refers to the con­nec­ted­ness with the origins of bread, the direct rela­ti­ons­hip with the earth that produces the wheat and gives us life. A rela­ti­ons­hip that we do not want to give up, at least not in our ima­gi­na­ti­on Despite our knowledge of the indus­tri­al fab­ri­ca­ti­on of our daily bread and the fact that being a baker still means strenuous work at night for a modest wage.

    Lorenzo Bonoli is Phi­lo­so­pher and Senior Rese­ar­cher at the Swiss Federal Institute for Voca­tio­nal Education and Training (SFIVET) in Lausanne-

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960/1975), Truth and Method. New York : Seabury Press.

    Gemma Bovery, 2014, Anne Fontaine, Fabrice Luchini, France  

    La Boulangerie, 2017, Award Winning Short Film, 13min, by Luke Jin 

    Behind the scenes of the largest industrial bakery in France, 2015, BFMTV 

    Fabrice Luchini in Gemma Bovery, 2014, France

    Fabrice Luchini and Gemma Arterton in Gemma Bovery, 2014, France

    Fabrice Luchini and Gemma Arterton in Gemma Bovery, 2014, France

    Tags

    The baker’s routine gestures: a pro­fes­sio­nal ‘classic’?

    Lorenzo Bonoli

    In contemporary cinema, we often don’t question seemingly cliché images of bakers at work as seen in Antoine Fontaine's "Gemma Bovery" (2014) or Luke Jin's short film "La Boulangerie" (2017), but perhaps we should.

    When watching a baker kneading dough, putting loaves in the oven, taking them out and then putting them on display, we can’t help but recognise his gestures as universal, inextri­ca­b­ly linked for us to the idea we have of his pro­fes­si­on. And yet… for decades, bread has been produced in factories where workers no longer “put their hands in the dough” but dedicate them­sel­ves to using machines.

    How is it possible that films that represent con­tem­pora­ry life still show images of these gestures as if they were still part of the essence of bre­ad­ma­king today despite being rare in reality? And above all: How is it possible that these bakers are not perceived as relics of a bygone era, yet still seem relevant today? In both films mentioned, these pro­fes­sio­nal tech­ni­ques lend the prot­ago­nists a certain authority; their pro­fes­sio­nal com­pe­tence earns the bakers the respect or admi­ra­ti­on of the other cha­rac­ters in the film.

    One could even say that these routine gestures are “classics” like in lite­ra­tu­re. As the phi­lo­so­pher Hans-Georg Gadamer has pointed out, the special feature of classics is that they last through the ages and always remain relevant — making the baker’s gestures classics. The classic dimension of these gestures is based on several factors. Firstly, on their reco­gnisa­bi­li­ty: every spectator will quickly recognise the gesture of kneading dough, even if they have never done it them­sel­ves or watched a pro­fes­sio­nal doing it. Secondly, their essen­tia­li­sa­ti­on: these gestures are reco­gnis­ed as quint­essen­ti­al of the trade, regard­less of the omni­pre­sence of indus­tri­al bre­ad­ma­king. Finally, their valo­ri­sa­ti­on: they are con­si­de­red noble skills that demons­tra­te an admirable know-how and deserve the respect of all bread lovers.

    The question that arises is this: How have the baker’s gestures become timeless classics? For other craft practices which have also been replaced by indus­tria­li­sa­ti­on such as tanning or weaving this was not the case. These pro­fes­si­ons haven’t found their way into com­mer­cials or movies but instead are portrayed in docu­men­ta­ries as a dying breed. Why is the baking pro­fes­si­on different?

    To answer this question, we have to go back to the film “Gemma Bovery” and listen to the baker, played by Fabrice Lucchini. In a scene in the bakery, Lucchini explains to the beautiful Gemma (Gemma Arterton) while she is sen­suous­ly kneading dough: “to touch bread is to touch the earth. The original crust from which life emerged”. The classical dimension of these gestures thus refers to the con­nec­ted­ness with the origins of bread, the direct rela­ti­ons­hip with the earth that produces the wheat and gives us life. A rela­ti­ons­hip that we do not want to give up, at least not in our ima­gi­na­ti­on Despite our knowledge of the indus­tri­al fab­ri­ca­ti­on of our daily bread and the fact that being a baker still means strenuous work at night for a modest wage.

    Lorenzo Bonoli is Phi­lo­so­pher and Senior Rese­ar­cher at the Swiss Federal Institute for Voca­tio­nal Education and Training (SFIVET) in Lausanne-

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960/1975), Truth and Method. New York : Seabury Press.

    Gemma Bovery, 2014, Anne Fontaine, Fabrice Luchini, France

    La Boulangerie, 2017, Award Winning Short Film, 13min, by Luke Jin

    Behind the scenes of the largest industrial bakery in France, 2015, BFMTV

    Fabrice Luchini in Gemma Bovery, 2014, France

    Fabrice Luchini and Gemma Arterton in Gemma Bovery, 2014, France

    Fabrice Luchini and Gemma Arterton in Gemma Bovery, 2014, France

    Tags


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    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.