Gemma Bovery Review

Gemma Bovery, the graphic novel that inspired the movie, was written by English writer and cartoonist Posy Simmonds as a British homage to Gustave Flaubert 1857’s first novel, Madame Bovary, one of France’s greatest novels. What more natural then for the graphic novel’s movie adaptation to be French.

Gemma Bovery tells the story of Martin (Fabrice Luchini, In the House), a literate ex-Parisian who settled into a Norman village as a baker. His passion for literature will be ignited when an English couple moves into a small farmhouse nearby. Not only are the names of his new neighbours Gemma (Gemma Arterton, Tamara Drewe) and Charles Bovery (Jason Flemyng, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), but their behaviour also seems to be inspired by Flaubert's most famous novel.

Gemma Bovery is a clever variation around Madame Bovary, a powerful piece of literature which dissects Emma Bovary’s life and emotions via the treatment of several themes including boredom, couple, love, passion and chance. The movie treats similar themes but it does it, quite cleverly, by switching the main point of view from Emma Bovary to Martin; everything that happens to Gemma is witnessed by the audience through his eyes to the point that sometimes we wonder if what happens to Gemma is really happening or it is just the result of Martin’s vivid imagination influenced by his passion for Flaubert’s novel.

The movie is more or less marketed as a romantic comedy. Although the movie contains several funny moments, generally linked to Martin’s attraction to Gemma, it is actually cleverer than this denomination suggests, similarly to another of Anne Fontaine ((Coco Before Chanel)’s recent films, My Worst Nightmare. In both these movies, the director actually plays with the contrast between her two main characters (the posh stuck up Agathe and the too relaxed ex-con Patrick in My Worst Nightmare), and the disillusioned Martin and the lively Gemma in Gemma Bovery to achieve something deeper than the usual romantic comedy.

Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer (Rien sur Robert)’s script also do a good job always linking and mirroring the scenario and the book while retaining the simplicity of the story. French cinema likes to give a literary image but can often appear verbose or long-winded. Due to its literary source, Gemma Bovery remains anchored in the Drama genre but Fontaine and Bonitzer manage to keep the mood up and to retain a playful dimension with, in the background, the throes of a destiny written, or not, in advance. Unfortunately, this is sometimes done to the detriment of some elements of the movie left unexplored, such as Martin’s mischievousness (he actually plays with people’s life). This is one of the most ambiguous aspects of the scenario and it could have benefitted from a more elaborate treatment to reinforce the attachment to the characters.

Gemma Bovery also benefits from a very interesting cast which make great use of both French and English actors; Fabrice Luchini, although still in a literature related role, is quieter than usual and bring a certain melancholy to Martin. His character is the cement of the story as both narrator and initiator of the events but he also brings a salutary offbeat humour. Gemma Arterton, in a role similar to her previous incursion in Posy Simmonds’ world in Tamara Drewe is an adequate incarnation of a modern day Emma Bovary, and Jason Flemyng, cast against type as Gemma’s quiet husband, brings the required amount of gravitas to make Charles an interesting character to root for. In their scenes together, the three actors engage in a playful game of words between French and English.

Finally, it is worth mentioning Elsa Zylberstein’s performance who is delightfully detestable as Wizzy, the posh ex-Parisian/new-Londoner’s wife who has something to say about everything.


SODA Pictures is releasing Gemma Bovery on DVD on 8th February.

The movie is presented in its original ratio of 2.35:1 in a reasonably clear image for the support.

On the audio side, the DVD offers two soundtrack options: 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. Both are clear and without major issues except for the dialogue which sound quite low in comparison to the overall soundtrack. The disc also offers optional English SDH subtitles.

The bonus section includes several interesting supplements to the movie:

In the footsteps of Emma: the making of Gemma Bovery (20min)
Produced by Gaumont for the French release, this supplement, mostly subtitled in French, allows to hear Anne Fontaine, Posy Simmonds and Gemma Arterton while witnessing interesting comparisons between some of the scenes in the movie and their equivalent in the graphic novel.

Interviews with: Anne Fontaine (9min), Gemma Arterton (8min), Posy Simmonds (6min)
Here are presented the entire interviews which were used for the making of. Each contributor gives more information on various topics such as the origins of the graphic novel, Madame Bovary, the characters, the actors, the ton of the movie, etc.

Behind the scenes (12min)
This interesting supplement is made of extracts of the shoot, also mostly used for the making of.

The last supplement is the theatrical trailer for the movie.

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