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.