Flaubert Wouldn’t Be Flattered By This Homage
DIRECTOR: ANNE FONTAINE/FRENCH/2015
Gemma Bovery is pretty to look at – that is, both the film and the title character of the same name. Actress Gemma Atherton is the quintessential English rose, tripping lightly through the film in airy dresses, when she’s not dancing sensuously, or eating bread sensuously, or kneading dough very, very sensuously.
To put it succinctly, the male gaze is strong in Gemma Bovery. The gazer through whom we are given our perspective is her neighbor, French baker Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini). Martin’s favorite book is Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovery, and the fact that his new neighbors share (almost) the names of the novel’s central characters seems to him more than coincidental. Surely, if Emma Bovery left her husband Charles for another man, it’s only a matter of time before Gemma Bovery does the same to her Charles (Jason Flemyng).
It’s not an especially believable premise – requiring not only the coincidence of names but of favorite novels as well. And that Joubert should be so obsessed with life imitating fiction seems an indication that he’s not well grounded in reality himself. But never mind all that: this is a comedy, I think, and can therefore be a little absurd.
Still, when it comes right down to it, Martin is a bit of a stalker – peering into windows, interfering in Gemma’s love affairs (yes, she does cheat on her husband) and spending a good deal of the movie with an enamored expression that looks like he’s been hit over the head. It’s not charming or even amusing so much as it is creepy.
Gemma and her husband have moved from England to the French countryside, occupying a house that is steadily crumbling (as will their marriage, shortly). At first Gemma is charmed enough by the scenery, the language and the bread to not become restless. That doesn’t last, however, and before long she’s taken up with a cherubic young lord of the manor (Neils Schneider), and so on.
As I said, Atherton is lovely, and a solid actress. But her character is a blank slate.
The movie felt like so much male wish fulfillment…at least if a male can be content with wishing that a beautiful young woman would move to the neighborhood in order to be ogled relentlessly.
Martin does get his special moment, though, when Gemma is stung by a bee and he is forced (of course!) to unfasten her dress and suck the poison from her back. Yes. That happens.
This film feels like dressed up anti-feminism, but again it’s a comedy and so perhaps our sights should not be too high. Martin’s wry, pragmatic wife spends the film trying to get his head out of the clouds and his eyes off Gemma. My sympathies were with her. She and kindly, put-upon Charles seemed to be the only intelligent characters.
I’m disappointed to see that Gemma Bovery was directed and co-written by a woman, Anne Fontaine; and based on a graphic novel written by another woman, Posy Simmonds. They could have done better than this French confection in which the woman at the center of everyone’s attention seems as empty of substance as the croissants in Martin’s bakery.