Gustave Flaubert was an exacting writer who often spent days perfecting a handful of lines, making him a fitting literary idol for a fussbudget like Martin Joubert. As a result, when an English woman named Gemma Bovery (mind the “g” and the “e”) moves to his Rouen village, he quickly fixates on her similarity with Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. Her curviness does not exactly dampen his interest either.
Literary obsession will have comedic and tragic implications in Anne Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovery,” which opens May 29 in New York.
Joubert was once a miserable editor for a Parisian publishing house, but he has been much happier since he returned to Normandy to take over the family bakery—up until now.
As part narrator and part Iago, we watch the story unfold through Joubert’s jealous eyes. He is perfectly positioned for spying, since the Boverys moved in right across the street from the Jouberts.
Despite his obvious infatuation, the curt Valérie Joubert is not particularly concerned about anything happening between them, for obvious reasons. However, when Bovery commences an illicit affair with the shiftless son of the wealthy Madame de Bressigny, Joubert’s rash petulance will set in motion an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable series of events.
With her adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel (with co-screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer), Fontaine completely redeems herself for the cringing smarminess of “Adore.” This is a wickedly droll film that saunters towards its sad end with a strangely carefree but knowing vibe. Frankly, the final ten or fifteen minutes are just about brilliant.
Of course, Fabrice Luchini is perfectly at home with Martin Joubert’s literate humor and angst-ridden yearning. He plays a darkly comic figure, but one that is dashed easy to relate to. Frankly, someone like Film Forum or MoMA ought to program an overdue retrospective of his films.
Gemma Arterton also brings an earthy sensuality to the film as Bovery and earns credit for her diligence learning French. Yet, one of the film’s most notable surprises is Jason Flemyng’s dignified, humanistic portrayal of Charlie Bovery, who is quite the far cry from the put-upon cartographer of the recent chaotic Russian maelstrom that is “Forbidden Empire.”
Very highly recommended for fans of French cinema and French literature, “Gemma Bovery” opens May 29 in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza and Landmark Sunshine theaters.
Director: Anne Fontaine
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng
Running time: 1 hours, 39 minutes
Release date: May 29
Rated 4 stars out of 5