Movie Review: ‘Gemma Bovery’

Review By Tom Fortuna

Gemma Bovery, a new French film that’s made it stateside, has a timeless message: beautiful women, beware. A twenty-first century take on the groundbreaking nineteenth century novel, Madame Bovary, Gemma Bovery stays true to the original’s cautionary tale about the dangers facing drop dead, gorgeous women.

The stunningly erotic English actress, Gemma Artrerton, portrays her here as a twenty-something, commercial artist married to a middle aged man. She found him on the rebound. We find that out late in the film — as her former lover appears out of nowhere and precipitates Gemma’s inevitable end.
Apparently never having read the tragic novel that she’s named after, Gemma inexorably seeks romance and is willing to break the rules whenever she finds another man of her dreams. Many dreams, many men. And Gemma, beware: you’re too willing to take back ex-boyfriends and husbands. If only she had learned to move on. But she’s a romantic, after all, in the real world.

It’s not Gemma’s fault that her effortless beauty would attract almost any man. Here she moves to Normandy, France, with said “older” husband. He’s apparently smart enough to whisk her out of London to keep her out of the way of other men. If only the filmmakers had been smart enough to whisk them away from the place where Flaubert wrote his epic, once game changing, novel.

This movie would have probably been more enjoyable to an American audience, perhaps any audience, if it didn’t carry the original novel’s literary heritage on its back. But the French are apparently into movie as literary critique, as are at least a few Americans with nowhere else to go but grad school.
They will enjoy this film despite other flaws. And, to be honest, adopting a novel that’s had seven film reincarnations is a challenge. As artists trying to do something fresh, the writers and producers were in a French twist. Just how many hoops would Steven Spielberg have to jump through to make a “fresh” Jurassic Park 7?

This unconvincingly romantic but realistic film thereby gets choked on its own literary pretensions. The narrator and really the star of the film is played by noted French romantic actor Fabrice Luchini: a man more suitable now to playing a grandpa than a stud puppy. He’s Gemma’s new neighbor and stumbles his way into a big crush and stalker behavior, eventually helping to ruin her life for his love.

He’s the town baker, having been forced to take over his old man’s business seven years ago. He has a shrewish wife; a rebellious son; a questionable comb over; and attractive (not really) grey stubble. Never the less, he sure does know how to kneed dough as erotic release, and how to stop the story in its tracks whenever he speaks in voice-over. But if you’re a fan of horny old men in that other grand literary tradition dating back to The Illiad, go see this film. And, thank God, Sylvester Stallone didn’t get the part.

Rescuing the plot and moving into the town’s chateau to study for his exams, however, is actor Neils Schneider: blonde, wavy haired, and almost as pretty as Gemma. No spoiler has to be revealed for you to know where this goes. A priceless piece of porcelain is broken during rough sex. This becomes a plot device bringing forth Neils’ monster mother. Guess what mystery ties this all together?

Now if you’re a fan of Madame Bovary, a literary scholar (apparently all French people are), or just a plain old romantic and lover of beautiful women lost among awe struck lovers, go see this film. Gemma Artrerton makes this a real movie despite its Frenchness, but only barely. The fact that the filmmakers try to make this light hearted and pop musical at times is truly disconcerting. They should have trusted their material. We love to cry. That’s what the real Madame Bovary was all about.

If the movie character Gemma Bovery had lived, she would have learned that the film believes that the biggest danger to a beautiful woman is herself. This seems to be the point with Cersei, Daenerys and Sansa in Game of Thrones. La plus ca change….

And watch out for the actress Gemma Artrerton. She’ll be in a super-hero movie soon. And like the endless loaves of bread in this movie, watch her rise to the top.

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