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by E. Ladd
Gemma Arterton is breathtaking. She fills the frame of every scene she’s in with an undeniable and winsome beauty. A voluptuous, alluring goddess of a woman bathed in golden, flattering light, wearing flower print frocks, and wandering about the charming bucolic Norman countryside. Yes, she certainly looks like a true incarnation of the Madame Bovary character that she’s supposed to embody. It’s too bad that she also comes across as a bit hollow. Is this what Flaubert would’ve wanted?
Allow me to explain...Gemma Bovery is a film by director Anne Fontaine (probably best known as a former actress and director of 2009’s Coco Before Chanel) and based on the 1999 graphic novel, originally published in The Guardian as a serial, by Posy Simmonds.
Simmonds based her tragicomic tale of British expatriates living in France on Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary. So, what we’re getting here is a film interpretation of a somewhat satirical retelling/interpretation of one of the 19th century’s most famous (and, at the time, notorious) masterpieces.
The film opens with a gorgeously shot sequence of baker Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) prepping dough at his bakery. He is soon established as the narrator of the film and, concerned with the wellbeing of his neighbor Charles Bovery (Jason Flemyng), he walks across the street to find Charles burning all of his wife’s possessions. Joubert manages to steal the diary of Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton) before it gets tossed onto the pyre. It is through Joubert’s recollections and Gemma’s journal that the story unfolds.
Gemma Bovery is a bored and beautiful housewife who has just relocated from London to enjoy the quiet provincial life in an undisclosed village not far from Rouen, France, where Gustave Flaubert wrote his greatest work. Her name and this coincidence is not lost on Joubert, who takes an instant interest and liking (no, creepy obsession) to his new neighbor.
She represents to him “the end to ten years of sexual tranquility.” He follows her, watches her, and notices the similarities between her and the doomed fictional character Emma Bovary. He even, unbeknownst to her, meddles in her life, especially when she meets the dashing young Herve de Bressigny (Niels Schneider).It’s not a perfect film but it’s still lovely to watch, especially Joubert’s fantasies of Gemma as Emma and one particular scene of her in a period gown and dancing in the doorway of Herve’s chateau.
Gemma Bovery has moments that don’t seem entirely focused. For instance: are we really supposed to care about these characters? I wanted to, but I can’t say that I did. Was there supposed to be the air of satire, simply based on Simmond’s source material? Or was there supposed to be a feminist take on a novel written by a man from the 1800s about an adulterous head-in-the-clouds beauty who “wanted everything from love but is always disappointed”?
I left the movie feeling slightly mystified by Fontaine’s direction. It didn’t seem to encapsulate all that it should have but, my goodness, Gemma Arterton is gorgeous and we shall see her soon enough in many other films.
Watch the trailer for Gemma Bovery
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