There is a certain charm to Anne Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovery,” mostly due to its stars Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, and the Normandy countryside. The film is adapted from the pop culture graphic novel, “Gemma Bovery,” by Posy Simmonds, which is a clever mash-up of Flaubert’s classic literature staple, “Madame Bovary.” Director Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”) looks to modernize this “Bovery” with her unwitting sexual powers over men, even if the outcome is tragic.
The film opens on Martin Joubert (Luchini), a former writer/university professor who gives up his everyday stress to take over his father’s bakery in a Normandy village. He will act as narrator (and even orchestrator) of events surrounding his new British neighbors, Gemma (Arterton) and her husband Charles (Flemyng).
We first meet Charles burning his wife’s belongings, but Martin deftly snatches Gemma’s journal out of the fire. Thus begins the mystery—what happened to Gemma? Will her diary give us clues?
Cutting back in time we meet Gemma and Charles moving into their new fixer-upper, and then again later at Martin’s bakery. Martin, an obvious lover of literature and dramatics, is smitten both by Gemma’s natural beauty and the fact that her name is a form of the classic “Bovary.” As he relays to the Brits, Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” was written right here in this same Norman village. What a coincidence.
This sets Martin’s mind reeling. Would Gemma have the same domestic boredom and sexual dalliances? Does Martin, who mentors the young woman in the classic tale, willfully bring these parallels to life? Will Gemma’s life play out like her tragic “almost namesake,” the literary “Emma Bovary?”
It’s a mystery that the film dutifully sets out to resolve. Too often though the narrative meanders. Coincidences regarding character motivations feel forced and lessens the emotional connectivity with Gemma and Martin. We intellectually want to see how this all turns out, but emotionally we’re not that attached. Fault is due more to the script than the talents of Arterton and Luchini, who are fun to watch.
On the technical side, kudos to cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne’s fine work in capturing the lush French countryside. Equally alluring is also how he makes the act of kneading bread dough so incredibly sensual.
It may not be one of the best French films of the year, but Francophiles will certainly find much to enjoy in “Gemma Bovery.”
“Gemma Bovery” is 99 minutes, Rated R, and in French with English subtitles. It opens in Los Angeles on May 29 at the Landmark Theatre.