Film Review: 'Gemma Bovery' - Life and Art Among the Hedgerows or Normandy

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Gemma (Gemma Arterton) in 'Gemma Bovery.' Courtesy of Music Box Films.

When newlyweds Gemma and Charlie Bovery move from their city life in London to the quiet French countryside of Normandy, little do they know they are about to fulfill a literary fantasy of the elderly local baker. From director Anne Fontaine comes Gemma Bovery, an adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, and a film that provides a treat for the eyes and the ears.

As much as he loves the sensual touch of kneading bread, Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is truly inspired by influential French writer Gustave Flaubert. Having left his hip life as a publisher in Paris for the quaint seclusion of Normandy, “a place where the art of living is taken seriously,” he is on the lookout for a diversion. His interest is piqued upon hearing the name Bovery, which bears a close resemblance to that of the title character in Flaubert’s debut novel Madame Bovary.

Played by Gemma Arterton, Gemma Bovery is a beautiful young woman whose English charm and whimsical ways perpetuate the film’s atmosphere. She is very much a focal point of the story, while the any character exploration of her slightly older husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng) falls by the wayside, leading him to remain the archetypal kind, trusting husband.

Much of the story is told from the perspective of Martin the baker, who begins looking for similarities between Gemma and Madame Bovary, the latter of whom embarks upon a string of extra-marital affairs in order to escape the boredom of her provincial life.

Martin becomes obsessed with Gemma’s own love life, seeing himself as the director in her story. At times, this becomes uncomfortable viewing, especially in a scene when he shows Gemma how to knead bread and there is some rather forced, cringeworthy sexual tension.

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Hervé (Niels Schneider) and Gemma (Gemma Arterton) in 'Gemma Bovery.' Courtesy of Music Box Films.

This film is visually beautiful, with golden sunshine and green country lanes providing the backdrop. The soundtrack, too, is wonderfully French, with composer Bruno Coulais at the helm adding a light, playful tone to the ambiance.

Despite some similarities between Madame Bovary and Gemma’s own story, much of this ends up being unwittingly perpetuated by Martin himself, in his strong desire to see life imitate art. As the characters become pawns in his imagination, we get an interesting comparison between Martin as the observer, for whom events unfold as mere intrigue, entertainment and diversion, and Gemma, for whom the events of the film are very real.

Overall Gemma Bovery is an enjoyable film to watch, with plenty of visually beautiful images and lighthearted humor, while a smattering of harsh reality brings proceedings back down to Earth with a bump.