There is much to like about Gemma Bovery, Anne Fontaine’s light, breezy French-English comedy served with a slight melancholic twist.
Gemma Bovery is set in the lovely French countryside of Normandy where Fabrice Luchini stars as Martin – a former Parisian classics enthusiast who upped sticks with his family seven years ago and returned to the country to run his father’s old bakery.
Neatly ensconced in rustic French village life, Martin’s mind is completely blown when young London couple Charles and Gemma Bovery move in next door. Martin keenly observes the drama unfold, as a director might, when the earthy English beauty becomes disenchanted with her antiques restorer husband and their life in a tumbling down cottage. He begins to fantasise that Gustave Flaubert’s literary classic Madame Bovary (also written in real life in the actual of town Normandy) has come to life before his very eyes.
It doesn’t take much to convince Martin that Gemma is slowly morphing into a modern day version of his tragic literary heroine, Emma – the affairs, the boredom with provincial life, the house – and even when he borders on the ridiculous (“Not arsenic you daft girl!” he screams one day at Gemma, who wants to use rat poison to kill a field mouse but whom Martin fears might choose to use it for something else) I still found it amusing.
How is it that both Bovery and Bovary could be leading such similar lives centuries apart, you might well ask? That part is easy; human behaviour has a way of repeating itself when it comes to matters of the heart, especially where tragic love trysts are concerned.
Thankfully, despite my initial fears, those trysts do not occur between Martin and Gemma, who is played to perfection here by a real-life Gemma (British actress Gemma Arterton).
Adding to the charm of this film for me, a lifelong Francophile, was the ability of both Gemmas to master the French language – Afterton did not speak one word of French before this film! She moved to Paris a few months before filming began, and perfected the language in Brittany, and just like her character on screen, ends the film with a masterful command of French. (Which immediately sent my imagination running wild with ideas of extended sojourns in Paris to properly master the language myself…)
Much like Gemma Arterton’s enviable selection of floral print dresses, which are the very vision of a young London woman’s interpretation of life in the European countryside, there are also several cliches in play here, sure, but some are even discussed on screen and nothing ever feels too heavy-handed.
Much as I always love watching Luchini on screen, I personally feel that Gemma Arterton’s wonderful performance is what makes this entire film; she is captivating to watch and without her, I’m sure my interest would have fizzled early on. This movie is Fontaine’s follow-up to controversial Australian drama Perfect Mothers with Naomi Watts and Robyn Wright, and while she isn’t reinventing the wheel, she has delivered a charming little movie that anyone with a dream to chuck in big city life and move to a cottage in the French countryside will thoroughly embrace.