Movie Review: Gemma Bovery

This week Ted 2 and Max are coming out. My plan was to see both on the same night, but my local theater is playing the latter before it is gone after Thursday. Show times are subject to change, but my plan for now is to see Max first and then Ted 2 on Friday. Hopefully AMC will post more times in the near future.

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My review of Dope brought to mind the issue of judging movies at face value based on promotional materials. Trailers often provide misinformation that severely affect one’s perception of the title before their expectations are shattered upon viewing, boosting the level of discovery. In the case of Dope, I was expecting a comedy and got a tone-deaf slog that does more damage to race-relations than a reference I find too soon to make at this time. When I watched the trailer for Gemma Bovery, I assumed it was a typical romance about a foreigner falling for the temptations of a foreign land. Was the movie far different than what I expected or did I guess correct?

Surprisingly, the end result was the former. I am not one for romances, at least the ones made by Nicholas Sparks and Tyler Perry, but I am perfectly fine with romantic elements in movies outside of the genre. Shaun of the Dead is a perfect example as well as some romantic comedies. Bovery is not a straight romance with its unique blend of genres.

After a pair of English expats move to Normandy, France, husband and wife Charlie, played by Jason Flemyng, and Gemma Bovery, played by Gemma Arterton, baker and bibliophile Martin, played by Fabrice Luchini, becomes convinced the couple is a direct parallel to the characters of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Martin’s fascination with the strange turn of events drives him to observe Gemma as the plot of the story begins to manifest in reality.

The film is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, which is technically an adaptation of Flaubert’s novel. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the film, as I have not read either works. Therefore, I recommend reading a different review if you are looking for comparisons to the source material.

Bovery has very foreign humor, both British and French, with a consistent element of gothic that ties it together. It could be considered a dark comedy, especially at the every end, but in the build-up before the tone is very light-hearted with shenanigans involving Martin stalking Gemma, engaging in unintentionally sexual situations, fighting his urge to give into temptation, and his prophetic machinations based on Flaubert’s novel. The presentation compounds the charm until the conclusion brings it full stop into tragedy.

It does not affect the overall movie nor does it feel out of place, but there was so much build-up and the other elements so tame, it felt like a punch in the gut. The tragedy was so effective it was hard to comprehend what actually happened because we cared about the characters and believed they have what it takes overcome the odds.

The aesthetic of Bovery is simple yet beautiful. There are maybe a total of six locations and their respective exteriors, shot in springtime, and through a lens that brightens light and color into a blurry watercolor look. It emphasizes the natural beauty of the environment and the underlying naive romanticism of the story. The film could have been shot in a very general manner, but it was a nice touch I feel requires mention.

The strongest performances were Arterton and Luchini. She was believable in English and French as a foreigner dumbfounded by her surroundings, falling for its temptations, and struggling to move on from her past. Luchini carried the movie and provided much of the comedy. Like Arterton, his wide-eyed wonder at meeting the personification of his favorite novel felt genuine.

Being a French movie, as I stated in my review of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, if you do not like reading, you will not like Gemma Bovery. But if you are interested in a unique story with romance, comedy, and tragedy and do not mind the language barrier, give it a look.

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