‘Every night he dreamt of her; it was always the same dream. He drew near her, but when he was about to clasp her she fell into decay in his arms…’
There is no doubt France’s seductive spell remains elusive. It is a country like no other, despite inevitable modernization it remains unique, with an elegance seeming grace and ease of living that contributes to its relaxed civilised atmosphere.
The magic light of Normandy is revealed in the blush pink of blossoms and wheat fields in the morning when a golden haze bathes the earth and lingers forever in the memory. It is a place of peace and contemplation, where seemingly man and nature are in harmony.
Directed and adapted by Anne Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer from a novel by British newspaper writer and illustrator Posy Simmonds, Gemma Bovery is a film at Palace Cinemas across Australia, as part of the 2015 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival.
It is a contemporary tale of an ex-Parisian baker Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) who has a favourite historic novel, one of the great French iconic works of literature Madame ‘Emma’ Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
Written and set in 19th century northern France it’s all about the romantic daughter (Emma Rouault) of a country squire who marries a rather ‘dull country doctor’ and embarks on a course of self destruction by throwing herself headlong into love affairs.
One morning an English couple move into the house next door to Martin, who is living a good life quietly and soberly in a village in Normandy with his wife Valérie (Isabelle Candelier) and his son Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein).
Rushing to greet this attractive pair Martin immediately believes they may be his favourite characters re-incarnated.
Stunned almost to silence, the elegant senior citizen is both hypnotised and mesmerized to a point of distraction by Gemma’s very direct gaze, entirely due to Gemma Arterton’s extraordinary magnetic presence.
Martin then finds out their names are Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Charles Bovary (Jason Flemyng) and so knows that his humdrum life is set to change and is very excited.
This ‘Emma Bovary’ is beautiful, beyond his imagining.
He becomes enamoured and captivated with the lovely Gemma to the point of obsession, although in a delightfully breezy appealing enjoyable sort of way. We are certainly entirely beguiled.
This is entirely due to Fabrice Luchini’s ability as an actor to both entice and charm. He becomes the central character around which events revolve in this amusing commentary on times past and present in which he delivers many delicious ‘one liners’ sure to amuse.
Gemma Bovary is a sensuous handsomely mounted production with impressive acting and cinematography, a delightful reworking of the iconic French satirical story with a sting in its tale.
What we are left to wonder as it proceeds, is this will follow Flaubert’s favoured novel or take on twists and turns of its own.
The first day that a market is held in the town square after they arrive Gemma, observed by Martin from his bakery door, meets the local aristocratic son Hervé de Bressigny. He is shacked up in the local chateau where he’s meant to be studying for his law exams, checked up on by his mother from time to time.
Actor Niels Schneider is eye candy in the extreme, everywoman’s idea of the perfect prince with tousled blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, tall and with a youthful body like Apollo, especially when he gets his gear off and more…
He turns all the women in the audience, despite their age, to jelly immediately.
He is, as we now realise, the re-incarnation of the seducer Rodolphe Boulanger, which means very soon he and Gemma will likely start a torrid love affair.
Martin knows it too and he’s in high dudgeon, trying to work out how to end it all before it starts and ends badly!
Gemma Bovary the English rose is an artist decorating her own home with great dash, while producing historically admired painted finishes for others.
Like the French she has the gift of mixing what she and her husband need with what has been handed down with such a great sense of style that it is a look that is eclectic and yet cohesive. Within a short time of arriving their rustic house looks like it belongs in a centre spread for Vogue Living.
Charles Gemma’s husband is involved in the restoration of antiques and so one would think that theirs should be a marriage made in heaven. After all they are both living the dream, the envy of their friends.
Gemma is however bored beyond belief and not even long walks in the picturesque countryside with her cute dog Carrington helps. She wanders daily across fields full of wild flowers or along tree lined country lanes hoping that she can soothe the spirit and refresh the soul.
She keeps running into Martin Joubert and his dog Gus everywhere she goes and so animatedly enjoys his conversation.
She’s warm, friendly, seemingly without any guile at all and full of unreleased passion that bubbles just below the surface, waiting to explode.
He’s worried it will, along with his own, and so seeks to protect her from history repeating itself because he knows that if it does then it won’t end well at all.
He offers distraction and to teach her how to make and bake a baguette and she agrees. While sensuously kneading the dough in his kitchen behind his baker’s shop she threatens to bring him entirely undone.
Fabrice Luchini provides a masterly portrayal of a man dually obsessed with both the past and present and ‘Madame’ Bovary.
He is desperate for one last sexual adventure of his own and if he cannot act it in reality he is determined at least to enjoy it in his head.
The original Madame Bovary died of arsenic poisoning and when Gemma purchases a bag of poison to help control the field mice invading her house, he is greatly disturbed, all but losing control.
Events are progressing, its a web being woven that makes her fate seem to be set.
France’s seductive spell like its characters in this stunning film continues to remain elusive. In look, feel, taste and spirit.
This is an aesthetically ravishing film, the combination of local materials of earth, stone and wood, set against nature and the nuanced colours of its landscape are indeed impressive.
In Normandy the mood is established by the elusive light of a countryside, whose landscape is rich in textures and mesmerizing in its diversity, which maintains a physical presence of ‘la difference’.
‘A strange thing was that Bovary, while continually thinking of Emma, was forgetting her. He grew desperate as he felt this image fading from his memory in spite of all efforts to retain it.’…
‘…Yet he tried to stir himself to a feeling of devotion, to throw himself into the hope of a future life in which he should see her again. He imagined to himself she had gone on a long journey, far away, for a long time.
But when he thought of her lying there, and that all was over, that they would lay her in the earth, he was seized with a fierce, gloomy, despairful rage.
At times he thought he felt nothing more, and he enjoyed this lull in his pain, whilst at the same time he reproached himself for being a wretch’.
Martin Joubert leaves his daydreaming as his son arrives to tell him a Russian couple have moved in next door by the name of Karenin. Quickly he’s up and out the door like a shot… after all, he has to welcome them to the village!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept, Circle, 2015
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Fabrice Luchini as Martin Joubert
Gemma Arterton as Gemma Bovery
Jason Flemyng as Charlie Bovery
Niels Schneider as Hervé de Bressigny
Quotes: Madame Bovery by Gustave Flaubert – Translated from the French by Eleanor Marx-Aveling