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12.6.15

For Your Consideration: 'Gemma Bovery'



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Gemma Bovery, directed by Anne Fontaine
France is a place where books still matter, where politicians like to be photographed with a copy of Montaigne's Essais in hand. Having had literary conversations there with taxi drivers, waiters, and bartenders, I was taken with the conceit of Gemma Bovery, the new feature by French director Anne Fontaine (Coco avant Chanel), about a baker in Normandy obsessed with Flaubert's Madame Bovary. When this nosy, bookish provincial, played by Fabrice Luchini with the same mumbling subtlety as his Monsieur Jourdain in Laurent Tirard's Molière, sees a British couple named Bovery move into the ruin across the street, his imagination runs wild. Not only do the bored, flirtatious Gemma (the seductive Gemma Arterton) and boring, oblivious Charlie (Jason Flemyng) resemble Flaubert's characters, Luchini's Joubert believes that he has the power to make his neighbors follow the course of his favorite novel. In other words, he enjoys the power of a novelist over his characters.

It is all too easy for Gemma to fall into the arms of Hervé de Bressigny, who as the son of the local nobility back in the area to study for his law exams is an amalgamation of both Rodolphe and Léon, played with entitled ease by Niels Schneider (J'ai tué ma mère). Gemma's dissatisfaction with the provincial small-mindedness of her neighbors is conveyed through the petty status consciousness of Wizzy and Rankin, a French woman and Englishman played with nouveau-riche empty-headedness by Elsa Zylberstein (Farinelli) and Pip Torrens (Bel Ami). Some of the best dialogue in the film is spoken by Luchini, as Joubert defends French socialism with curmudgeonly obstinacy against Rankin's capitalist rhetoric, or as he chastises his son, who appears to like video games more than books -- "It would be better if you took drugs rather than saying such dumb shit," Joubert tells his son at the dinner table -- all under the supercilious disapproval of his shrewish wife (Isabelle Candelier).


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Mme. Joubert's exasperation is understandable, because her husband's obsession with the Boverys is more than just literary. The parallels with Flaubert break down quickly, in fact, as neither Gemma nor Charlie is as exasperating as the corresponding character in the novel. Charlie is left mostly undeveloped, compared to Charles Bovary, and both, in fact, are quite sympathetic, with the additional financial tragedy of the book's characters left out of the screenplay. (Sophie Barthes has a new film adaptation of Madame Bovary, starring Mia Wasikowska and Paul Giamatti, which we hope to review soon.) Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer adapted the screenplay from the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, and cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne captures the Norman countryside near Rouen in all of its damp, rural glory. A subtle, minimalist-flavored score by Bruno Coulais (Coraline) heightens the effect.

This film opens today at area theaters, including Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema.

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