Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Madame Bovary: the French Icon of Infidelity in a New English Language Production
has been played by Jennifer Jones and Isabelle Huppert, each of whom were
problematic, in their own particular ways. Despite being one of the greatest
exemplars of literary realism, Flaubert’s novel has been a tough adaptation to
crack, but not for a lack of trying. While the likes of Vincente Minnelli,
Claude Chabrol, and the BBC have all taken cracks at it, one of the most
successful versions to date remains Anne Fontaine’s non-adaptation, by way of
Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, Gemma Bovery. However, by not getting too fancy, Sophie Barthes scores one of the
better adaptations with her slightly simplified but reasonably faithful Madame Bovary (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
we all surely know, Emma Rouault will consent to a loveless marriage to Charles
Bovary, a well-meaning country doctor, for the sake of stability and security.
Of course, she soon grows dissatisfied with the provincial life, finding solace
in the luxury home wares and fashionable gowns peddled by the predatory
Monsieur Lheureux. Initially, the convent-educated Bovary will struggle to
remain faithful to her husband, but it is only a matter of time before she
succumbs to the charms of first the dashing but callous Rodolphe Boulanger,
followed by the cultured clerk, Léon Dupuis.
alert—this will all end it tears. Of course, the title character bears the
brunt of the responsibility and guilt, but Lheureux and Boulanger most
certainly contributed in a deliberate manner to her downfall. Many adaptations practically
crucify Bovary, but Barthes is more even-handed. In fact, she and the
scenery-chewing Rhys Ifans portray as Lheureux as quite the shameless villain,
only missing a handlebar mustache to twist.
from Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet (Two Days, One Night) dropping in to add a thimbleful of Francophone authenticity
as Monsieur Rouault, the ensemble players of note are all native English (or
Welsh) speakers, which is fine. Apart from Brooklyn’s own Paul Giamatti (who
played himself in Barthes’ debut Cold Souls), the cast all look and sound properly Masterpiece Theater.
(if we can use that term in conjunction with Flaubert’s novel), the demands of
Emma Bovary are quite well suited to Mia Wasikowska’s talents. Somehow she is
simultaneously vulnerable and coolly reserved. As the consequences begin to
fall on her head, she makes us feel for Bovary just a little, but not too much.
As usual, Giamatti is also fun to watch as the Iago-like Homais.
Barthes and cinematographer Andrij Parekh revel
in the muddy dankness of her Yonville surroundings, which they markedly
contrast with Wasikowska’s porcelain delicacy. Her tragic downward spiral makes
far more sense as a result, than in prior cinematic interpretations. Such a
conventional literary production is a bit of a surprise as the follow-up to
Barthes’ uber-meta first feature, but by not over-complicating her approach,
she scores a stand-up double (to close with a baseball metaphor, in honor of
Flaubert). Recommended for fans of prestige costume dramas, Madame Bovary opens this Friday (6/12)
in New York, at the Village East.
Labels: Madame Bovary, Paul Giamatti