20 July 2015

Anne Fontaine’s ‘Gemma Bovery’

Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, set in mid-19th century Normandy and a pillar of French literature, has been filmed on several occasions, for example by Claude Chabrol in 1991 and by Sophie Barthes in 2014, soon to be released in the UK. We are also going to have the opportunity to see Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery, a version at one remove from Flaubert’s and with a British twist. Posy Simmonds started her cartoon comic strips in the Guardian in the 1970s. They offered a satirical view of contemporary middle-class life, at least as lived by Guardian readers, and anticipated the sharper style of some of Grayson Perry’s pots and tapestries. In 1999 the Guardian ran Simmonds’ reworking of Flaubert as a graphic novel in which Emma Bovary becomes Gemma Bovery, half of an expatriate British couple living in present-day Normandy. It was later published in book form, with rather more text than would be found in a normal bande dessinée (see below, thanks to Amazon):

It is hardly a plot spoiler to say that Emma’s enthusiasm for adultery ends badly - if it hadn’t, the prosecution of Flaubert in 1857 for obscenity might not have failed. Gemma’s particular fate is retold in Simmond’s version through the eyes of the local baker (Boulanger with a small b …) and Flaubert admirer, Raymond Joubert. In the film he becomes Martin Joubert and is played by Fabrice Luchini, an actor whose expression conveys paragraphs. The intertwining of Joubert and Flaubert brings to mind Luchini in Philippe-le-Guay’s Alceste à bicyclette, where the literary presence was Molière and the setting the Ile de Ré. Gemma Arterton as Gemma Bovery is well-equipped to set male pulses racing and there are some comical scenes, for example when Martin teaches Gemma to knead dough. The attractive locations apart, Gemma Bovery is carried by Luchini and Arterton, the two leads overshadowing the rest of the cast, even Jason Flemyng as husband Charles/Charlie. Some of the other British characters seem to have been cast in the style of Woody Allen’s London films – all spoken English is now apparently a hybrid of Mockney and Estuarial.

I thought it was a better film than Stephen Frears' Tamara Drewe in 2010, also with Arterton in the title role and based on a Simmonds graphic novel modernising Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novel Far from the Madding Crowd. Tamara Drewe was given 4* ratings by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian and Philip French in the Observer - perhaps not surprisingly - and elsewhere. It will be interesting to see the UK critics’ reactions to Gemma Bovery next month.

No comments:

Post a Comment