Gemma Bovery has plenty of charm and enough wit to warrant this retelling of Flaubert’s masterpiece…
Gemma Bovery tells a story of an older man (Fabrice Luchini) who lives in Normandy, the land in which his beloved Flaubert once lived. It was in fact where he wrote Madame Bovary which is significant because an English couple, Charles and Gemma Bovery, have just moved in next door and may be on the path to mimicking that of their tragic literary namesakes. Gemma Arterton plays Gemma and Jason Flemyng plays Charles in this light and breezy comedy which, to its credit, is the first to recognize the ridiculousness of its premise and which doesn’t mind poking fun at itself along with everything else.
There is a new Madame Bovary in the works with Mia Wasikowska playing the lead and one has to ask, with the numerous iterations of this character which keep on being made, why do we need to see Gemma Bovery? What is the point in this version? Well in theory I like the ideas which are at play in Anne Fontaine’s film; the concept of readdressing the novel but from a sideways bent holds many fascinating possibilities. As in Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in which Hamlet‘s periphery characters take centre stage and interact with the original text to explore new territories and birth new readings so could this have similarly interacted with the classic French novel. When Luchini’s character allows his Flaubert fascination to reach new extremes he begins to start influencing events, acting as a sort of vaguely omnipresent narrator. Unfortunately this device never really develops properly as its potential gives way to predictability and staleness. It’s all very charming but Gemma Bovery is not as clever as it thinks it is.
What works in Gemma Bovery‘s favour is Gemma Arterton’s performance. The film doesn’t allow us to really get inside her head but it does require that she is charming and somewhat tragic and Arterton delivers on what is asked of her. Also at first it is easy to be won over by Fabrice Luchini’s winking performance as the obsessed older man, however that quite quickly begins to looses its charm as the film wears on. The film isn’t unpleasant to watch, with Normandy’s countryside in the background and regular parades of fresh bread in the foreground its easy to let the time pass by. However this isn’t supposed to be purely a lighthearted comedy because the possibililty of tragedy hangs over the entire film. We can never be sure whether Gemma is going to head in the same way as Emma did, however we are supposed to be concerned that it is a possibility and instead we find that we just don’t care enough.
When a book about passion, tragedy and sizzling chemistry is adapted to the screen it needs to be duplicated. Gemma Bovery fails in this basic requirement; no matter how many fun, post-modern ideas it throws around and sumptuous scenes it creates the film lacks heart and thus it doesn’t quite click. It’s a shame that we don’t buy into the relationships on screen because this had potential and although I don’t think anybody would struggle to sit through the film, I enjoyed it for what it was, it does feel somewhat like a missed opportunity.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Gemma Arterton’s performance.
Its greatest weakness? The script can’t replicate any of the passion of the original novel and fails to intervene upon it in an interesting way.
Would I see it again? I didn’t mind watching the film, it was an easy way to let time pass by… but once was enough.
Gemma Bovery is released today by Soda Pictures. Will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!