The fifth cinematic adaptation of Gustav Flaubert’s novel overall and the
second to arrive on Australian screens in as many months (after the Anne
Fontaine/Posy Simmonds ‘more-or-less inspired by’ version GEMMA BOVERY),
director Sophie Barthes (COLD SOULS) opts for a pared-down, realistic
interpretation - heavy on hand held camerawork and beautiful locations - rather
than a romantic one. It’s an approach that serves Mia Wasikowska (TRACKS;
STOKER) well as Emma, the inexperienced 19th century finishing
school drop-out who is quickly married off to a promising but unambitious young
rural GP (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), and almost as quickly becomes bored and
frustrated with her modest country life.
Though Wasikowska never shies from the less appealing aspects of Emma’s character – impetuous, selfish and often manipulative - for some reason it never amounts to quite enough. There may be untranslatable detail in Flaubert’s writing, but Emma on screen doesn’t have much of a character arc; she’s neither tragic heroine nor antihero nor villain, whether she’s spending money she doesn’t have with serpent-like purveyor of fineries Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) or taking lovers she thinks might provide her escape (Ezra Miller as the passionate young romantic Dupois, and Logan Marshall-Green as the Marquis), she’s just… not a very nice person to be around, but not much more. Which is not to say that Barthes’ film isn’t worthwhile – lovers of period detail will find much to enjoy in Benoit Barouh’s attentive production design and some gorgeous costumes by Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux, while there’s a fine supporting turn from the always welcome Paul Giamatti.
MADAME BOVARY is released July 9 in Australia and New Zealand.