Gemma Bovery is a modern adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary. The film is both self-aware and charmingly twee.
Martin is a former Parisian who takes over his father’s bakery in a small French town. When an English couple move in next door, Martin can’t help but draw parallels between the wife and the fictional Madame Bovary…
Director and co-writer Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery is something of an adaptation of the classic novel, as well as being a film about the novel. In Gemma Bovery, characters are not only aware of the existence of the novel Madame Bovary; they actively discuss or dictate events from it.
The film is as much about the narrator as it is about the title character. Viewers are positioned with Martin the baker, and much of the action occurs from his point of view. This use of a narrator, a fan of the original novel, is a good ploy to include references to the Flaubert story without awkward exposition.
The narrative of Gemma Bovery moves at an adequate pace. At times it can feel as if the story is jumping ahead without sufficient exploration. However, this makes sense as most of the action is presented from what Martin sees, rather than each detail of what actually occurs.
Camera work in Gemma Bovery frequently indulges in gentle voyeurism. Taking Martin’s point of view, there is a distinctive focus on Gemma’s face and body. There is a lightness to Fontaine’s direction, and indeed the overall tone of the film. Performances are decent; with Gemma Arterton well cast as her namesake. Fabrice Luchini also brings a jovial feel to Martin. There is a believable mix of French and English, given the characters and the setting.
Gemma Bovery is light and entertaining viewing. The film is sufficiently removed as to not attract comparisons to the novel it so overtly references.