Gemma Bovery (2014)

Gemma Bovery (2014)
  • Time: 100 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Anne Fontaine
  • Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng


Martin, an ex-Parisian well-heeled hipster passionate about Gustave Flaubert who settled into a Norman village as a baker, sees an English couple moving into a small farm nearby. Not only are the names of the new arrivals Gemma and Charles Bovery, but their behavior also seems to be inspired by Flaubert’s heroes.


  • It’s been over 150 years since Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary scandalised France with its tale of a provincial doctor’s wife who escapes the tedium of her life by succumbing to the charms of a roguish landowner. Flaubert was brought to trial to defend the alleged obscenities of his work, a trial that was used as a narrative device in Vincente Minnelli’s sumptuous 1949 film adaptation. There’s a similar framework in place in director Anne Fontaine’s take of the bored beauty. Based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, this modern retelling finds our heroine’s story being told through the eyes of Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), who left the rat race and moved to Normandy to take over his father’s bakery and to try and find a peaceful and balanced life.

    He whiles away the hours thinking of the novel that changed his life when he was 16 years old. He’s delighted at the arrival of his new neighbours, an English couple whose names Charlie and Gemma Bovery (Jason Flemyng and Gemma Arterton), mirror that of Flaubert’s novel. Joubert’s self-described “ten years of sexual tranquility” is stirred at the sight of Gemma, and he is soon drawing connections, both real and imagined, as Gemma’s situation begins to mirror Emma’s.

    “She was waiting for something to happen,” Joubert reflects as he observes Gemma. Initially enthralled by the idea of country life, she’s soon frustrated by the myriad of problems besetting her everyday: the constant cold and damp, the holes in the roof, the clogged toilets, the field mice that keep scurrying across her feet. Along comes the young HervĂ© de Bressigny (Niels Schneider, looking like he’s stepped out of a Caravaggio painting), with whom she engages in a torrid affair as Joubert looks on, from up close and at a distance, heartbroken and disapproving, fearful that the affair can only end in tragedy.

    Gemma Bovery has its attractions – the lovely scenery, the ever reliable Luchini, and Arterton’s bountiful beauty – but feels underdeveloped. Gemma is viewed strictly through Joubert’s eyes, so one is never quite sure how much of the situation is genuine and how much of it is his projection. Setting Joubert’s own thoughts and desires aside, there is scant explanation for Gemma’s malaise apart from fairly mundane problems. Her liaison with HervĂ© comes off as inconsequential and even capricious on her part since the film makes little attempt to take the temperature of her marriage. “She wants everything from love and is always disappointed,” Joubert says of Emma, but to apply that description to Gemma is a tenuous maneuver at best.

    It’s a disappointing showing for Fontaine, who co-wrote the adaptation with Pascal Bonitzer. Given her track record for treating complicated romantic relationships with thoughtful finesse (Dry Cleaning, Adore), it’s surprising how little emotional investment she elicits for Gemma. The transition from the frothiness of the first half to the sobriety of the second is poorly handled, though this may likely be overlooked given that boredom would have already set in by this time.

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  • Martin (Fabrice Luchini) lives in a small Norman village, working as a baker. Soon an English couple move in nearby, Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Charles (Jason Flemyng) Bovery. Martin is instantly intrigued by them. He is an avid reader of Gustave Flaubert’s work, and sees a similarity between Gemma & Charles, and the characters in Madame Bovery. Martin intensely observes the couple, particularly Gemma. Gemma seems to live in her own dreamworld and soon starts to stray from Charles, despite Martin’s attempts to prevent it from happening.

    Gemma Bovery opens with some beautifully shot, alluring footage of dough being needed in Martin’s bakery, from there though, it’s all downhill. The problem with this film seems to be a mixture of plot and delivery. I just couldn’t get myself involved in the story or find any common interest in the characters. They all seem to be in a dazy, dream-like state as they go about their everyday affairs, and the concept of this couple mirroring (in Martin’s eyes) the characters from a Gustave Flaubert’s work Madame Bovery, whilst an intriguing premise, is just utterly unbelievable. The couple just happen to have the last name Bovery and then unwittingly copy the lifestyle of their literary equals? Is this actually real or in Norman’s head? It’s a format which can make for some enthralling stories, if done correctly. However with Gemma Bovery, it comes off as too confusingly self-reflexive, whilst lacking anything captivating enough to keep my interest.

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