I'm so pleased I stirred myself to see this most satisfying Anglo-French film. It's been some time since I last gave any film a good thumbs-up so this one is all the more welcome.
A French-speaking, English couple (Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemying) arrive to set up home in a small town near Rouen, moving into a large, run-down house neighbouring the home of the local baker (Fabrice Luchini), an enthusiast for the nineteenth-century novelist Gustave Flaubert. When he introduces himself, routinely rather than with any overt warmth, he is amazed to find that not only is her surname the title character of one of his favourite books, 'Madame Bovary' (the literary one being with an 'a' rather than 'e'), and that fictional personage having as first name 'Emma', against the new neighbour's 'Gemma'. Yet furthermore, both fictional and factual characters are married to a 'Charles'! It might be thought too much of a risible coincidence but it's a conceit of this film's story that I was more than happy to go along with. It gets even more entertainingly unlikely when, because of the baker's unspoken reservations about their being his neighbours, he spies on their lives and is dismayed to discover that the arc of her experiences actually parallels that of the fictional Mme Bovary. This real one embarks on an adulterous affair with a much younger man living nearby, and the baker is concerned that she will come to an unfortunate end as the fictional one does. In fact we know that this Gemma dies right at the film's start because virtually the entire film is a flashback, though we don't know how she arrived there - and it's not the ending one (i.e. me) might have expected.
If it sounds to be a bit on the grim side it's not completely heavy by any means. There are quite a number of amusing touches, mostly involving the baker and his observations.
I did read 'Madame Bovary' some years ago, but distant enough in time to have made me forget what happens in the novel, though one doesn't need to know. The film character's life's resonances with the book are mentioned several times, and even the film's Gemma herself is aware of them. (In most circles this film would have just been based on the Flaubert story without any reference to it within the film itself, perhaps only in the opening or closing credits. Here it's full-on and unapologetic and this unusual film is all the better for it).
Most of the dialogue is in French, with only the odd sentence or word in English when the main couple lapse into their own language.
I found the entire film absorbing, at turns funny and at other times dramatic or suspenseful - but never tedious.
Full marks due to the trio at the film's heart - and particularly Luchini as the suspicious town baker.
Anne Fontaine's direction too is exemplary, with the semi-rural, small town atmosphere well captured.
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