by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Jan. 29-Feb. 1, RPL Film Theatre
Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel Madame Bovary is widely considered a literary classic, but it’s a classic that has grown more problematic with time. It’s the story of the dissatisfied Emma Bovary, who attempts to escape her dull life in the country through adulterous affairs, which she over-romanticizes. Bovary is a shallow, ludicrous and unsympathetic character.
Gemma Bovery, on the other hand, turns the tables on the male characters and the author himself. Martin (French mainstay Fabrice Luchini) is a retired lawyer who has found solace running a bakery in the Normandy countryside. A Flaubert aficionado, Martin cannot believe his luck when a British couple moves next door: Her name, Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton). His: Charles (Jason Flemyng).
Inspired by this coincidence and his attraction to Gemma, Martin inserts himself in the couple’s life, convinced the book is a blueprint for their existence. It takes some nudging, but some of the novel’s most recognizable happenings take place. The only aspect not working in this real-life recreation is Gemma herself, who proves more soulful than her literary alter-ego.
Based on a 1999 graphic novel by Posy Simmonds (of Tamara Drewe fame, also adapted to film), Gemma Bovery is an indictment of the male gaze that points out that women are more than a collection of character traits. It also brings light to the role of men in Flaubert’s heroine’s tragic fate.
Director Anne Fontaine’s light touch keeps things entertaining and fluid. The cast (particularly Luchini) is strong, although Arterton doesn’t quite reach the levels of complexity she needs to project for the movie to work. Overall, however, Gemma Bovery stands as an alternative to fake-feminism (ahem, Under the Tuscan Sun, ahem) and as a rallying cry against giving classics a free pass on their sexism. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo