For the source of her latest film, director Anne Fontaine has turned to graphic novelist Posy Simmonds, whose update of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd provided Stephen Frears with the story for 2010’s Tamara Drewe. This time, Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel of romantic yearning, Madame Bovary, is the basis for another imaginative recasting of a timeless masterpiece.
Embracing the melancholy of Flaubert’s book while placing it against the bucolic wonders of the verdant Norman landscape, Gemma Bovery orbits around its young, married protagonist, in this telling an Englishwoman (Gemma Arterton) who moves to a small French village with her husband (Jason Flemyng). Another recent arrival is Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), a baker who has fled Paris, along with his long-suffering wife, in search of stability and equilibrium. Martin rapidly takes a proprietary interest in the English beauty and falls under the spell of her charm. Gemma’s passionate nature is ill served by her husband, and it’s not long before her eye starts to wander.
Fontaine’s film is not just an incisive look at a young woman confronting a series of key choices in her life as she loses her head in a fit of passion: in her clever revision of the Flaubert original, she portrays Joubert as a man completely aware of the narrative of Madame Bovary, and who makes awkward and self-conscious interventions in an attempt to change that story. Luchini is perfect as the wary, lovelorn baker, while Arterton — who also starred as the title character in Frears’ film — fits the role of her namesake to perfection. As both the object and subject of love, she glides into her role with effortless aplomb.