15 – 99 mins – 2014
LIFE IMITATES ART IMITATES ART
“A mundane story told by a genius.”
Adapted by author Posy Simmonds from her own 1999 graphic novel, this quaint-yet-quirky French romance is a quasi-meta modernised riff on author Gustave Flaubert’s controversial nineteenth century novel about the archetypal bored wife who becomes entangled in adulterous affairs to escape her provincial life.
“It seems really wacky,” real world English rose Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton) comments of the book to her romantic literature-loving new neighbour Martin (Fabrice Luchini), a Normandy baker who acts as omniscient “director” of this parallel tale, while also starring in it.
Moulding the action like he does his dough, Martin guides the audience like a sentient GCSE revision guide by pointing out the similarities between Madame Bovary and the relationship calamities of her expatriate almost-namesake. Martin is a meddler-come-voyeur, often reduced to a wide-eyed, infatuated fug while Gemma’s husband (Jason Flemyng), a local playboy (Niels Schneider) and her ex (Mel Raido) vie for her attention.
I am struggling to ascertain whether I consider this cleverly post-modern, or simply lazy, with plot points from the original novel being lifted wholesale (rat poison, faked love letters) into this present day love triangle. The book’s tragic finale, for instance, when broached sternly in the film’s third act, comes across as wholly contrived and easily avoidable, yet events still transpire as if this is in someway fate – which is just romanticised nonsense, and the way it plays out on screen nothing short of goofy.
“Nothing happens, but at the same time it’s interesting”
Sadly, in assessing Gemma Bovery, I cannot agree with the lead character’s review of Flaubert’s classic. Frustrating, yes, mildly-diverting, certainly, but not interesting. Like its portrayal of manipulator-or-victim Gemma and its continual bilingual flitting between English and French, Anne Coco Before Chanel Fontaine’s film is a muddled mess which can’t quite decide what it is.