This film by the French director Anne Fontaine could offer you a couple hours of cool entertainment in a lazy, hazy summer afternoon.
Gemma Bovery (2014)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert was published in 1856. There have been no less than half a dozen movie adaptations of this famous piece of literature, dating back as early as 1934 (dir. Jean Renoir). Only in 2014 did a female rendition emerge with Sophie Barthes in the helm and featured Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary. It’s a relatively conventional take on Flaubert’s literary classic.
Interestingly, in that same year, another movie version of Madame Bovary also came out. This one is by French director Anne Fontaine (born 1959). Under the helm of the versatile Fontaine, and in the spirit of Emma Bovary, this one looks like it’s a vignette from a parallel universe, defying traditional norms, laced with a deadpan, comical streak, and transported to modern day France.
Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), a long-time academic publisher in Paris, moves back to Normandy to take over his father’s bakery, seeking for a peaceful and balanced life in the quiet region. A literature enthusiast, Martin’s antenna for the literary is sharp and sensitive. When a couple with the names of Charles and Gemma Bovery move into his adjacent house in the country, he quickly stands guard on the affairs of the young woman, as he knows the ending of the novel Madame Bovary by Flaubert. He uses all his male sense and sensibility to avoid a tragedy that could befall his new neighbours.
Director Fontaine’s title gives it away as a parody not to be taken too seriously. Gemma Arterton is a good choice as she appears to be a more convincing Gemma Bovery than Mia Wasikowska’s Emma Bovary. For those watchful for literary adaptations, Arterton was Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008, TV miniseries) playing alongside Eddie Redmayne as Angel Claire. In a more recent year, Their Finest (2016) also saw her mastering her role poignantly.
Gemma is an interior decorator and Charles a furniture refurbisher. Parallel characters as in Flaubert’s novel appear in Gemma’s life after she moves into the Norman countryside, tempting her to fall into a similar track as Madame B. Except, we don’t see her buying luxurious goods and remodelling her humble abode. Fontaine is bold to let her viewers see what Flaubert was describing with his words, albeit these scenes are short.
So, is Martin successful in avoiding a tragic end to his imagined literary heroine? No spoilers here. In a lazy, hazy summer afternoon, an ending short of crazy would not be worthwhile for a parody.
~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
Do you have a favourite French literature to movie adaptation?
Thanks to Tamara for hosting a 6th annual Paris in July event at Thyme for Tea.