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New Release Review - GEMMA BOVERY

A Normandy baker becomes obsessed with his new English neighbour, who shares the name of Flaubert's tragic heroine.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Anne Fontaine

Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng




"Like a nap in a Normandy field on an August afternoon, Gemma Bovery is a serene but ultimately empty experience. It will, however, be interesting to see how Arterton's burgeoning sideline in Gallic cinema develops."






Tired of settling for supporting roles in English language productions, Kristin Scott Thomas exploited her bilingual skills and set off across the channel to France, reinventing herself as Gallic cinema's most popular female star with meaty roles in acclaimed movies like I've Loved You So Long and Love Crime (though lately, in films like Looking for Hortense, In the House and Before the Winter Chill, she's had to settle for the sort of 'wife' roles she fled England to avoid). Now her compatriot Gemma Arterton seems set to follow suit, with a role in Arnaud des Pallieres's upcoming Orpheline next year; before then we have her French language debut in Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery.
Based on a '90s graphic novel, Gemma Bovery takes us to Normandy, where baker and literary buff Martin (Fabrice Luchini) has his quiet life upset by the arrival of an English couple who move into the rundown house across the street. Martin immediately becomes obsessed with Gemma (Arterton), and not just because she looks like Gemma Arterton; her name is Gemma Bovery, not quite Emma Bovary, but close enough for Martin to decide she is destined to follow the same tragic path as Flaubert's doomed heroine (her husband's name is also Charles!).
At first it seems we're in for yet another spin on that Gallic cinema cliché of an aging intellectual man falling for a free-spirited young woman; when Martin first meets Gemma, his voiceover proclaims it the end of years of "sexual tranquility". Yet it quickly becomes apparent that, while inevitably physically attracted to Gemma - as any red-blooded heterosexual male would be - Martin is more obsessed with the literary character he feels he has conjured to life, and is more interested in preventing her from meeting the same fate as Emma than in becoming romantically entangled himself, exploding in a fit of rage when Gemma suggests buying poison to deal with the scourge of field mice in her home.
When the film focusses on Martin, played with a quiet charm by Luchini, an actor with a face you can't help but warm to, it's a pleasant piece of whimsy, but too much of the film is centred around the title character, who, despite plenty of screen time, never feels like a fully fleshed out person. It could be argued that this is intentional, but as we don't always view her actions through Martin's eyes, it's an argument this reviewer isn't buying.
Like a nap in a Normandy field on an August afternoon, Gemma Bovery is a serene but ultimately empty experience. It will, however, be interesting to see how Arterton's burgeoning sideline in Gallic cinema develops.



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