“Desire and death are intertwined,” we’re told in Gemma Bovery
(3 stars on our 0-5 scale), a clever and occasionally funny satire on Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece. Though director Anne Fontaine’s French-language production is essentially a one-note conceit, it’s able to coast on its charm, overcoming its almost total lack of a second act and other story deficiencies.
With just two letters separating her name from that of the doomed heroine in Madame Bovary
, Gemma (the painfully gorgeous Gemma Arterton) is a married Englishwoman fresh to France, with a life that eerily resembles that of her literary shadow. Or at least that’s what her elderly male neighbor (the excellent Fabrice Luchini) imagines thanks to his obsession with the 19th-century novel.
“Gemma, there’s a moment when life imitates art,” he tells her. Though she doesn’t see the connection, she is at least compelled to read the Flaubert book and, amusingly, comment, “Nothing happens, but at the same time it’s interesting.”
The same could be said of the film, which gets bogged down in affairs between a woman we barely know and suitors we care nothing about. It also becomes needlessly preoccupied with a time-consuming subplot involving a cracked porcelain figure, perhaps a metaphor for Gemma’s damaged marriage to her husband (Jason Flemyng, well known for playing Thomas Button in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
). But, like that statue, the movie feels a bit broken until it rights itself with a solid ending that balances drama, comedy and literary homage.