Anne Fontaine’s preceding endeavour Adore was a supposedly charming, romantic tale devoid entirely of charm or romance. Her latest production, however, thrives in that very area – as she brings Gustave Flaubert’s perennial novel Madame Bovary to the big screen in an innovative and endearingly quaint fashion, with Gemma Bovery.
Gemma Arterton takes on the eponymous protagonist, who moves to a small French village in Normandy with her husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng). The former instantly becomes the subject of intense fascination, from their curious new neighbour Martin (Fabrice Luchini), who becomes enamoured by her beauty, and completely transfixed by her name – and how her life seems to mirror that of Flaubert’s heroine (“Emma Bovary”).
If you ever wanted an example of art imitating life imitating art, then this is it, as Gemma Bovery is a creative take on the literary masterpiece that justifies its adaptation – certainly more so than the other, current retelling starring Mia Wasikowska – which adheres faithfully to the original prose. This picture, however, has more in common with Francois Ozon’s work, which it is evidently influenced by: particularly In The House – another surrealistic film that scrutinises over the lack of distinction between reality and fiction. In both films Luchini plays a voyeur, immersed in the lives of others, and it’s a role he plays remarkably well, with a blissful bewilderment and look of pure curiosity smacked across his face at all times. We watch Gemma from his gaze, which also adds to the allure of the role, as she seems like something so wondrous, and painfully out of reach. You completely believe in how men become bewitched in her presence too, such is the seductive, beguiling performance by the actress. Flemyng matches his co-stars at every turn though, with an understated performance, as he manages to convey how he’s feeling without always needing the use of words.
This light, frivolous and playfully meta adaptation is undoubtedly an enchanting one – but is lacking in profundity. Not that this should always be expected, nor should it be a problem – but it can be described as such when reimagining (albeit loosely) Flaubert’s poignant, powerful piece of literature on the big screen.