DVD: Gemma Bovery

GemmaDVDSTUDIO: Music Box Films | DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine | CAST: Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier, Niels Schneider, Mel Raido, Elsa Zylberstein
RELEASE DATE: 9/1/15 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95
BONUSES: featurette, Master Class with director Anne Fontaine, From Page to Screen Graphic Novel Gallery
SPECS: R | 99 min. | Drama romance | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio  | Video  | Overall

“Comic book movie” is a phrase that instantly fills most Americans’ minds with images of superheroes, endlessly rebooting themselves with billion-dollar fight scenes that are as dull as the original ones found in the books they sprung from. But for the rest of planet Earth, the comic art form has enjoyed a vibrant creative life, supplying the world with some amazing works of visual literature you shouldn’t be missing. One of England’s most celebrated cartoonists is Posey Simmons, who’s Gemma Bovery first appeared in 1999: a clever re-imagining of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary told through the eyes of an aging, frustrated baker for whom literature provides a romantic escape from his otherwise unfulfilling life.

Gemma Arterton is Gemma Bovery

Gemma Arterton is Gemma Bovery

Anne Fontaine’s (Coco Before Chanel, Adore) French film adaptation of this graphic novel manages the not-so-easy trick of staying true to the book while succeeding on its own cinematic terms. It might even be the rare example of a film that improves on the source material; this is a story of human relationships, and the subtleties found in the looks, comments and gestures of the actors prove more telling and moving than they do with their graphic counterparts. Fabrice Luchini (Potiche) plays the baker, using his sad, pathetic eyes throughout the film as he projects all his literary fantasies onto his new, British, neighbor: Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton, Byzantium). The beautiful Ms. Arteron, too, captures her character’s essence perfectly, delivering a role that you can never quite nail down. Is she Flaubert’s ideal, a woman full of passion and aspirations trapped in a dull, country life… or is she just a shallow, pretty face? Since the story is basically told from both characters’ points of view, we’re denied ever having an “objective” eye that can clarify the truth. Arterton’s subtle looks tease us with hints that she could go either way.

Director Fontaine adds a distinctively French point of view to Simmons’ story, playing up the differences and rivalries between her folk and their English neighbors. But it’s less a social satire and more a fantasy, teasing the reader with almost-too-perfectly contrived situations that parallel Flaubert’s original story. But of course, that’s the point; whether you buy into Simmons’ and Fontaine’s clever story crafting, or whether you find the whole thing a bit fluffy, probably depends on your relationship to Madame Bovary. Having two women write and direct a story with an idiosyncratic male protagonist is a refreshing twist, and both the film and graphic novel are delightful and enjoyable, charming and smart- though ultimately, perhaps, they’re more of a pleasant intellectual diversion than a memorable insight into the human condition.

Not that every film needs to be such a thing, and any flaws are more the fault of Simmons’ original story than with Fontaine’s directing, who gets a solid “A” as far as adaptations go. So does the DVD, which provides several supplementary pieces that visually compare the comic to the film. In a short, but growing list that includes American Splendor, Ghost World, and the recent Diary of a Teenage Girl, you can add Gemma Bovery as a modestly successful entry into the club of “graphic-novels-turned-films-sans-caped-crusaders.”

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.