Review: Gemma Bovery

Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Martin (Fabrice Luchini) in GEMMA BOVERY. Music Box Films

Love, marriage, affairs, and consequences in the French countryside. You are invited.

Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) left behind his career in publishing and moved from Paris to Normandy to take over the family bakery, accompanied by his oft-annoyed wife, Valerie (Isabelle Candelier), and his underachieving teenage son, Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein). The village where the family resides is beautiful and romantic; their day-to-day lives are mundane.

Then a British couple moves into the country house across the street. Charlie (Jason Flemyng) is a handsome, gregarious fellow entering middle-age. Ah, but his young wife, Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton) is perfection. Martin is thunderstruck. It's not just her looks and the way she carries herself, it's also her name: Bovery.

Bovery, which is almost Bovary, which is the name of the lead character in Gustave Flaubert's classic novel, "Madame Bovary." Martin loves Flaubert. He loves "Madame Bovary" and he quickly notices parallels between the life of his new neighbor and the life of the famed heroine. Clearly, Gemma is on her way to ruin. Obviously, Martin must insinuate himself into her life, to rescue her from the literary tragedy that awaits. Martin's wife listens to her husband's rant, then reminds him that he is an idiot. He ignores her, as is his norm, and starts watching and waiting.

The film is not a suspense thriller, by the way. Yes, Martin is kind of skeevy. Yes, he's a stalker. But he isn't violent. His character comes off more like an interesting flake than a villain. Also, you do not need to be familiar with "Madame Bovary" to enjoy the movie.

Gemma Bovery is based on the 1999 graphic novel by Posy Simmons. Anne Fontaine directs the film from a screenplay she wrote with Pascal Bonitzer. The movie is in French and English, with subtitles when necessary. Gemma Arterton also starred in Tamara Drewe, Stephen Frears' 2010 film based on another Posy Simmons graphic novel.

I enjoyed spending time in the French countryside. Martin and Gemma discuss how country life is considerably more difficult than outsiders envision it to be, but that bit of verisimilitude just added to the rustic appeal for me. The goings-on within the ensemble cast (I haven't even touched on the actual plot – that long stretch at the beginning of this essay merely covered the setup) are a pleasure to watch. Mind you, the film is small, and the mood frequently drifts toward melancholy, but it's nice to relax and drift away into a sweet, sad place like this.

Besides, there are laughs as well, along with a pretty good sex scene. There's also a segment where Martin shows Gemma the ins and outs of baking, leading to a scene where she kneads a baguette the way Demi Moore and Patrick Swayzee kneaded clay in Ghost. Subtle, it isn't, but it's fun to watch.

Gemma Bovery isn't a must-see movie, but during the summer movie season, where we're bombarded by one noisy extravaganza after another, how nice it is to have a change of pace. All does not end well in Gemma Bovery, but most of the film serves as an agreeable respite from all the blockbusters.


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.

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