Based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery is a tragicomic drama (with more emphasis on the tragic than the comic) that plays around with the idea of life imitating art, specifically Gustav Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary. Gemma Arterton stars as Emma, an archetypal English Rose who moves to a small, rural French town with her husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng). The first person they meet is neighbour Martin (Fabrice Luchini), who has moved back to the town himself to take over his father’s bakery with his wife, after many years of life in Paris. Martin takes an interest in the newcomers partly because of his attraction to Gemma, partly through generosity and friendship, and partly because of his own love for Flaubert’s novel, noting the similarities between the English couple’s names and those of Flaubert’s protagonists, Charles and Emma Bovary. Subsequently, as Gemma’s relationship with Charlie goes through a rocky patch, Martin begins to notice that Gemma has more in common with her Flaubert counterpart than just the name, yet the film entertainingly plays with the idea that he’s simply projecting all of this behaviour as he becomes obsessed with the English woman and the idea of her as a literary character made real. The question posed, as Gemma’s love life becomes ever more complicated, is whether he’s a narrow-minded stalker or a concerned, impartial observer .
Gemma is viewed from Martin’s perspective throughout, so Fontaine’s film is quite interesting in the sense that it’s about the male gaze but it has been both written and directed by women (though Fontaine co-adapted the graphic novel for the big screen with a man). For much of the running time, though, it’s quite light and breezy, and a lot of it passes by like a pretty cloud in a field on a warm summer’s day. There are only around 20 minutes to go when Fontaine finally gets to grips with the emotional impact of the scenario on the characters, and even then the rather sad ending has a joke epilogue tacked on, but that’s not to say the film’s lightness isn’t enjoyable, and the comic fayre on offer is charming enough. My two favourite characters here – a boorish and bourgeois Anglo-French couple played by Pip Torrens and Elsa Zylberstein – are largely incidental to the main story and are milked for laughs, but the scenes I enjoyed the most all featured one or both of them. Luchini and Arterton both turn in good performances, and it’s the latter’s second starring role in a Posy Simmonds adaptation, following her appearance in 2010’s Tamara Drewe. There are some nice touches throughout, such as the way the response to a bee sting foreshadows a later tragic incident, and indeed the way that later incident is shown from the perspective of three different men. I guess in summary the film sometimes feels too frothy for its own good, but the acting’s fine and it’s shot well by Christophe Beaucarne, who lets sunlight drift into all the dusty corners of the old farmhouses and stately homes.
Directed by: Anne Fontaine.
Written by: Anne Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer. Based on Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds.
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier, Mel Raido, Niels Schneider, Pip Torrens, Elsa Zylberstein.
Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne.
Editing: Annette Dutertre.
Music: Bruno Coulais.
Running Time: 97 minutes.