Starring Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng and Edith Scob
The latest film by Anne Fontaine (COCO AVANT CHANEL, MY WORST NIGHTMARE) tackles Flaubert’s classic novel, Madame Bovary. We have seen countless Madame Bovary adaptations over the years, but Fontaine’s GEMMA BOVERY is nothing like its predecessors.
The film follows Martin (Fabrice Luchini), a sixty-something-year-old baker living with his wife and son in Normandy. One afternoon, Martin crosses the street to meet his new neighbours, Londoners Gemma and Charlie Bovery (Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemyng), who immediately remind him of Emma and Charlie Bovary of Flaubert’s novel. Martin is immediately enamoured with Gemma and begins to carefully observe her life, making comparisons between her and Emma Bovary any time the opportunity presents itself. As Gemma, like Emma, starts an affair with a younger man (Niels Schneider), Martin begins to fear that Gemma’s life may soon end in tragedy, like his beloved Madame Bovary.
GEMMA BOVERY is certainly a huge step up from her previous film ADORE, but that doesn’t say too much. Unlike ADORE, Fontaine’s latest is charming, intriguing, and at times quite funny. It is like a light version of Madame Bovary, and that is exactly the kind of treatment Flaubert’s novel needed after a string of similar adaptations.
The casting in the film is excellent. There seems to be no one more suited to this type of role as Luchini, though he did play quite a similar part in the 2012 film, IN THE HOUSE. The film is first and foremost a showcase for Arterton, who has been getting rather disappointing roles in American films since her breakout in QUANTUM OF SOLACE. Films such as HANSEL AND GRETEL and PRINCE OF PERSIA do not showcase Arterton’s talent, so it is about time she has returned to the foreign market that knows how to handle her best. The beautiful Arterton is completely alluring in the film, which makes Martin’s fascination with her Gemma quite easy to understand. Since Arterton is British, viewers may be surprised that she actually speaks French quite well, which is simply another reason to fall for for this film.
GEMMA BOVERY balances comedy and drama quite well, but struggles to find a tone when it reaches its bizarrely climactic final act. This is an adaptation of Madame Bovary, so some sort of tragedy is expected. Yet, the end of the films comes out of nowhere, and is so far-fetched that many viewers will be turned off by it. Even with that shaky ending though, GEMMA BOVARY is a very pleasant film. It won’t leave viewers with much to think about once the credits roll, but the journey there is one worth taking.