Madame Bovary (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Ezra Miller, Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans, Logan Marshall-Green, Paula Carmichael, Richard Cordery
Director: Sophie Barthes
Screenplay: Rose Barreneche (aka Felipe Marino), Sophie Barthes (based on the novel by Gustave Flaubert)
Review published June 14, 2015
Madame Bovary is yet another attempt to adapt the classic (and, at the time, controversial) mid-19th Century French novel by Gustave Flaubert for the big screen, but it also, like the others before it, will not be the definitive take on the tale, especially when it has been condensed into a sub two-hour run time. No children, and the story doesn't shift to the husband as it does in the novel. For the complete picture, you'll still have to read the highly detailed, and complexly original, realist work.
At its core, Madame Bovary is the story of a bored housewife (Wasikowska, The Double), Emma Bovary (nee Rouault) whose ennui spurs her to not want to settle in to married life in a small country town, wanting to see the world, and experience life, love, and everything else the world has to offer. Unfortunately, she comes to find out, all of this has a price, which may be too high of a standard of living for a provincial doctor to support, especially one who is a firm believer in living life as simply and with less excitement as possible. As hubby Charles (Lloyd-Hughes, Anna Karenina) seems resolute at being stuck in his ways, Madame Bovary begins opening up to the possibilities of experiencing life without him, including looking elsewhere for love, decadent extravagance, and the hope of a more exciting life.
Directed by French-born helmer Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls), reportedly the first woman to take on a major production of the work, her movie is decidedly small and intimate for a period piece that could easily have been ostentatious and garish. As with most period pieces, there's a great emphasis on costumes and cinematography, both of which are solid in Madame Bovary -- not the best you'll see, but for its modest budget, and considering that most of the characters are of modest means, still remarkable. I also enjoy this cast of actors, most of whom are speaking in their own native dialects, though there are some occasions when the dialogue is delivered a bit stiff, which I blame more on the attempt to use the ornate style of Flaubert than I do these actors, who are all quite capable in other circumstances.
One of the difficulties of enjoying Madame Bovary is the very unsympathetic main character that we have to follow. Having consented to marriage as a manner to get away from her life in convent in a sleepy town, we sense she sees greener pastures forever on the other side of the fence from wherever she's standing, but why she truly does need to fulfill some sort of destiny in a life of material possessions and lavish adventures isn't fully made clear in the film, leaving us to wonder why, outside of being selfish to the point of wickedness, she would have absolutely no love for anyone else who isn't some sort of promise of a a more fulfilled life. Then again, I'm guessing we all know people like this, so perhaps this portrayal is spot on, but this is a character study that doesn't really go into why Emma is what she is.
Madame Bovary is well made, enough to recommend for those who enjoy period pieces, and this masterwork in particular. It's not as interesting and engaging as you might expect a time-tested story to be, and by the end, you might even be content with seeing some form of comeuppance for the main character (interesting that the film's sole sympathetic character isn't given the same end as he gets in the Flaubert novel). If you're unfamiliar with the work, I'm afraid this may not be the best jumping-on point you could choose, but for those looking for a well-acted and moderately interesting take on a subject you might know well, it is worth an escape into this world to follow a woman who yearned for her own escape.
©2015 Vince Leo