Directed by Sophie Barthes
The classic story of Emma Bovary, the beautiful wife of a small-town doctor in 19th century France, who engages in extra marital affairs in an attempt to advance her social status.
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★★★★ review by Ben Smith on Letterboxd
Heavy frocks and tightly bound corsets typify Sophie Barthes’s retelling of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary; an unromantic film of stuffy inertia that wears the clothes of Sunday teatime period drama, but locks its conflicted, opaque emotions somewhere far deeper. The skies are perpetually overcast and there is a spider in the bouquet of flowers.
Pitched as the first of the novel’s many adaptations to be helmed by a woman, Barthes may not exactly seek compassion for the doomed Mrs. Bovary, but she guides us towards sympathy for the life she has been thrust into, shifting the central focus to Emma rather than her husband Charles. Groomed as a ‘lady’ and married off to a respectable provincial doctor (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), her fate was never in her hands. So as Emma Bovary’s dreams of education and spiritual enrichment one by one fall by the wayside, and the shapeless rigmarole of married life with her wet blanket of a husband reveals itself, it is no surprise she seeks pleasure, or passion, or anything, elsewhere. There are carnal affairs with the travelled soulful Leon (Ezra Miller) and the all-powerful Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green) – but it is with her reckless spending with local merchant Monsieur Lheureux (a sparkling Rhys Ifans) that she finds most trouble, stockpiling oriental fabrics, furniture and oysters; grasping for something to plug her emptiness. But from the opening flash-forward and Galperine’s score that airily lilts with foreboding, we know there is a wound in her that will continue to bleed.
Never explicit in motivation, it is unclear – to Bovary and us – what the young woman is seeking. Her affairs and lavish spending bring intermittent joy, but the empty soullessness of her own existence consumes all. Madame Bovary conveys this increasing apathy splendidly, transforming Wasikowska from a carefree, unruly student to the listless woman crushed by her marriage. The experience drags its thick, ornate petticoats through deeper and deeper mud, always on the verge of relinquishing our interest entirely. But there is something in this remote, melancholy character that draws us through her every turmoil. Actions are not excused, but neither are they spiteful. Wasikowska is, again, superb, continuing her rise to dominance, selecting challenging work that provides her with real character to delve into – and here silently exhibiting the level of alienating detachment and fragility that this odd, conflicted anti-heroine requires.
Madame Bovary explores the constraints of sex and circumstance placed upon Emma. Keeping to the lines of a conventional structure, it merely suggests counterpoints to her decisions as the drama elegantly unfolds. While the narrative may not be punchy enough for some, and the aforementioned prelude dulls any suspense, as a singular mood piece of sumptuous period imagery that admirably explores its themes Madame Bovary is hard to fault.
Its retelling now in a culture of encouraged superficial pursuits and rampant consumerism feels somehow right. Real Housewives of 19th Century Provincial France. To Lheureux she is just a blank cheque, to the Marquis she is just a trinket; but Emma Bovary is a thoroughly modern woman – albeit one worn down, suffocated and mistreated by the men in her life. But under this near-feminist reading lurk several moral shades of grey that keep Barthes’s Bovary an engrossingly conflicted soul.
★★★½ review by teamzizzou on Letterboxd
Although never getting out of third gear, i found the film to be absorbing with Wasikowska a illuminating presence. Resplendent Costume design and the beautiful scenery made up for the plodding plot.
★★★★ review by martika on Letterboxd
balances on the edge of boredom, but makes up for it with beautiful cinematography
★★★★ review by Filmvsbook on Letterboxd
A thing of beauty. Captivating and feels like you've stepped into a painting.
★★★★★ review by Lucy on Letterboxd
what a freaking masterpiece omg the way this movie shows so clearly how emma craves adventures and emotions and great things happening to her.... this is real emotion and i can relate to it in a spiritual level. i see how emma just can't settle to the normal life cause she doesn't want and can't stand quietness. she longs to be loved in a real, entrancing way, but she wants it with someone whose spirit is as adventurous as hers.
in the end, her emptiness devoured herself.
oh and i'm also completely amazed by this cinematography. Mia looks astoundingly beautiful as always and the costumes are truly great
i have fallen in love with madame bovary. i don't regret it.
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