Have I purposefully avoided reading Gustave Flaubert’s groundbreaking classic about the tragic Madame Bovary? Yes. What can I say? Ill-fated stories generally tend to put me off.
So why did I want to see a retelling of this tale set in modern-day Normandy? BECAUSE FRANCE.
Who doesn’t love stories set amidst freshly baked bread, an abundance of local wine, gossiping villagers, and the verdant French countryside? And I’m a sucker for imaginative retellings. This one, I am happy to say, did not disappoint.
The movie opens with local baker Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini, L’Hermine, Bicycling with Molière) baking his bread for the day while listening to a broadcast about his favorite novel, Madame Bovary. He left his career at a publishing company in Paris to take over his father’s bakery in the village, hoping for a quiet, peaceful life. But life in the country seems to be quite the opposite of what everyone expects.
When Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe) arrives in the tiny village with her husband, Charles (Jason Flemyng, X-Men: First Class, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), she is instantly enchanted. It may have been his idea to relocate from London, but she is fully on board with his decision and determined to learn French, fix up their chateau, and completely immerse herself in this new life. Martin, ever the romantic, can’t help but draw parallels between his new neighbors’ names and their home in the village where Flaubert once lived.
Gemma, for all her good intentions, gradually becomes bored of her quiet life. And the subtle expression of this boredom creeping in is what grabbed my attention and pulled me completely into her story. I love the French countryside, but I’m a true city girl at heart, and my personal experience of staying in a similarly small French village for a time made me sit up a bit in recognition and empathy as I watched the heroine seek a remedy to her boredom. The unforeseen problems with their ancient house, the lack of varied company, and their relative isolation all combine to chip at Gemma’s marriage and make her seek the more exciting company of a neighboring college student.
Martin (who has officially stepped into stalker territory by now) takes it upon himself to save Gemma Bovery from Emma Bovary’s fate, and in so doing he manages to help her along the same destructive path.
When confronted with Martin’s conviction of her life imitating Flaubert’s art, Gemma’s confident assertion that she is simply herself, and that she (unlike her namesake) is capable of being happy, was an inspiring moment that, for me, sealed this film as a solid, decidedly modern retelling.
Gemma Bovery made me laugh, it made me think, it tugged at memories and emotions like old friends…it even made me long to revisit the French countryside (just for a little while).
Best enjoyed with a glass of wine and dark chocolate.