Gemma Bovery is set in Normandy and shot in France by director Anne Fontaine, who also made the charming Coco before Chanel with Audrey Tatou, and it is an effective combination of Gallic charm and English savoir faire.
The fact that the title character has a name so close to that of Flaubert’s heroine Emma Bovary (though with a slightly different spelling) is the pivot of the story. Martin (Luchini), the local baker, is a passionate fan of the novel Madame Bovary. So when a young English couple, Gemma and her husband Charlie (Fleming) move into the village, he immediately sees parallels between them and the characters in the book. He also develops a secret passion for the lively, real life Gemma, whom he starts stalking. And when Gemma, getting bored with her husband, embarks on a passionate affair with Herve (Niels Schneider), the sexy law student who lives in the local chateau and the lovers’ relationship begins to echo that of the novel, the now tortured Martin consciously and unconsciously nudges the parallels along.
The story plays out as a delightful piece of French froth with dark undertones – Gemma’s ultimate fate is blackly ironic. Arterton is deliciously sexy and charming, while Luchini manages to be both disturbing and comically ridiculous at the same time. It also captures the under the surface conflict between English ex-pats and the natives effectively, in terms of both in the Bovary’s themselves and their neighbours, Englishman Rankin (Pip Torrens), who “adores” French food, wine and everything else French, his irritatingly gushing and nosy French wife (Elsa Zylberstein) and Herve’s snobbish aristocratic mother (Edith Scob), who obviously detests the English for just not being French. There’s also an effectively creepy contribution from Mel Raido as Gemma’s ex-boyfriend.
If you’ve ever been on holiday in Normandy, the setting may well bring on an attack of nostalgia. And there are also two cute little dogs, who have a role to play in this tragicomedy.
Review by Carol Allen
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