Gemma Bovery (2014)

Gemma Arterton and Niels Schneider in Gemma Bovery (2014)I must confess I know essentially nothing about Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. What I do know is gleaned pretty much entirely from this film, in which elderly baker Martin (Fabrice Luchini) becomes convinced that his new neighbour, Gemma (Gemma Arterton), is reliving Madame Bovary’s tragic character arc (specifically: sleeping with some dudes and then committing suicide).

Wikipedia – yes, I know – describes Flaubert’s classic novel as a “seminal work of realism.” It seems like odd inspiration for Anne Fontaine’s film, which sidesteps realism entirely. It begins by balancing Martin’s voyeuristic observations of Gemma with her own day-to-day life (which ends up mostly revolving around sex). There’s a suggestion that the film will unfold into a reflection upon projection and its ramifications, before an oddly jarring shift into black comedy in the final act. (It weirdly comes across as though the film is deriding its own premise.)

There are things to like about Gemma Bovery, certainly. The cinematography – all warm diffuse light and gentle close-ups – looks lovely. Gemma Arterton looks lovely. Niels Schneider (of Heartbeats, playing one of Gemma’s lovers) looks lovely. But it’s all so aggressively average, tonally inconsistent and ultimately pointless. Maybe I should just get around to reading Flaubert.

2.5 stars

9 thoughts on “Gemma Bovery (2014)

  1. I started watching this film a while ago and I gave up after the first 20 minutes. But maybe it just wasn’t my day; I’ll certainly try to watch it again, because (judging from your review) it doesn’t sound all that bad. And I definitely need to re-read Flaubert sometime in the near future; we had to read Madame Bovary in high school and I absolutely hated it. But I think I was just too young (I was 16 at the time) to fully appreciate it.

    • Eh, I can’t really recommend you go back to it to be honest – the 2.5 stars here was generous! I mostly appreciated the soft look of the film (and Gemma – who looks real nice here) to tolerate its lack of purpose. I kinda get the impression I need to learn French to truly appreciate Flaubert…

      • Oh, OK, maybe I’ll leave it at that then. I agree, Gemma is adorable to watch, but she just keeps getting stuck with the same sort of roles (Tamara Drewe comes to mind here…). I would really like to see her in something a bit different.

        You’re probably right, but I gave up on learning French a long time ago. It’s too hard – or maybe I’m just completely incompetent. Either way, I’m stuck with reading the translated versions of his books. 🙂

  2. I’ll take your recommendation and pass. Too bad, for I have fond memories of the book. Emma Bovary was a restless, bored opportunistic. There was one scene in the book I loved. She was taken to a party and the fizz of the celebration lifted her heart and she felt alive. The rest of life was prosaic. It resonated with me. She craved excitement and it destroyed her. Doesn’t sound like the film at all. Nice review.

    • That sounds wonderful, at least; perhaps the upcoming – direct – adaptation will do it better justice? It doesn’t seem like the story this film was telling has much in common with what you’ve described!

  3. I didn’t mind ‘Gemma Bovery,’ at least it tries to do something different! There’s another ‘Madam Bovary’ film coming out in later in July which looks even more by-the-numbers.

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