Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: A-
Director: Anne Fontaine
Screenwriter:  Pascal Bonitzer, Anne Fontaine, based on Posy Simmonds’ 1999 graphic novel
Cast:  Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier, Niels Schneider, Mel Raido
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 5/20/15
Opens:  May 29, 2015

Life follows art.  Art follows life.  Sometimes art follows art.  In that last category, let’s say an author modernized Dave Eggers’s stunning 2014 novel “The Circle,” about the influence of social media by bringing it right up to the present moment. Unless the modernizing author is Dave Eggers, he or she would be sued for plagiarism.  However if you modernize a classic, that is a novel that is in the public sector, you’d not only be legally in the clear.  You might be praised.  Such is the case with Anne Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovery,” a modernization of Flaubert’s classic “Madame Bovary” about a materialistic, unhappily married woman who indulges in affairs, ultimately ending her life by taking arsenic.  “Gemma Bovery” is adapted from Rosemary Elizabeth “Posy” Simmonds’s graphic novel of the same name originally featured in the The Guardian newspaper, later published as a book.

And the movie is a delight, changing the tragic, or perhaps better defined as melodramatic, Flaubert novel into a serio-comic look at some thoroughly 21st Century people, neighbors in a small French village outside Rouen in Normandy.  The adaptation is faithful, though names have been changed. For example, Raymond Joubert, a baker in the town, is now Martin Joubert.  He, and not the title character, represents the principal around whom the action takes place.

Director Anne Fontaine, known to cinephiles for “Coco Before Channel,” about Gabrielle Channel’s rise from obscurity to the heights of the fashion world, is in her métier, this time tracing the arc of an illustrator who follows her husband from London to Rouen, engages in an affair with a neighbor while briefly following up a previous liaison, all from the point of view of an older man’s imagination and a modicum of stalking.

Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), the older man, had moved back to his village to take over the family bakery along with his shrewish wife Valérie (Isabelle Candelier) and high-school student son.  When a pair of newlyweds, Charlie Bovery (Jason Flemyng) and his wife Gemma (Gemma Arterton), move across the street, Martin is both taken by the young woman’s beauty and fascinated by her name: he keeps Flaubert’s novel in his home and likes to imagine that Gemma may follow in the path of Flaubert’s Emma Bovary despite the slightly different spelling.  He invites her to a one-pupil baking class, hoping that she will be as hot for him as the dough that they are kneading, until she meets young, rich and handsome Hervé de Bressigny (Niels Schneider).  Lo and behold, Bovery and Hervé begin an affair just like Emma and Rodolphe in the classic.

As Gemma, Gemma Arterton does not become three-dimensional.  She flits about and flirts but we do not get much insight into her character.  Though her (almost) namesake Emma Bovary is frustrated by her rural existence, carrying on affairs to transcend her stifled feelings, Gemma seems simply caught up in Hervé’s youth, looks and wealth.  Her own husband Charlie is a nice enough guy, carrying on his trade restoring antique furniture, but like his own namesake, Charles Bovary in the Flaubert novel, he is a cipher.

Instead, Pascal Bonitzer and Anne Fontaine’s script highlights Fabrice Luchini’s Martin, not only the principal character in this light version, but one who acts almost like the scriptwriter himself, using his imagination to such a wild extent that he believes he actually has a chance with the lovely Gemma.  It doesn’t hurt that the role is played by Luchini, born in Paris from a family of Italian immigrants and fluent in both Italian and French.  Accomplished particularly in comic roles as in François Ozon’s “Dans la maison,” where he performed in the role of a French teacher’s relationship with a precocious pupil, Luchini is the principal reason to see this delightfully comic take on the great French classic.

Rated R.  99 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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