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MADAME BOVARY (2015) review

August 4, 2015

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written by: Rose Barreneche and Sophie Barthes
produced by: Sophie Barthes, Felipe Marino, Jaime Mateus-Tique & Joe Neurauter directed by: Sophie Barthes
rating: R for some sexuality/nudity
runtime: 118 min.
U.S. release date: June 12, 2015 (limited release)
DVD/Blu-ray release date: August 4, 2015

 

Something would really have to stand out in a current  19th century period piece film to capture my interest. It seems like there’s one released just about every month (if not week) with seldom an original take on the literary adaptation subgenre. In the case of Sophie Barthes’ “Madame Bovary”, the latest adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 debut novel, the draw is Mia Wasikowska, who plays the titular role and is an undeniable presence in all of her films (she even made Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” tolerable).

I continuously find her to be a captivating talent, with a penetrating stare and an emotional availability present in every role I’ve seen her portray so far. Wasikowska carries Barthes’ film, but it ultimately falls flat, nearing a palpable lull that will bore viewers, while delivering a fine-looking period film with a tangible brooding tone.

 

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As the film begins, we see Emma (Mia Wasikowska) preparing to leave the convent she was raised in to marry Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes “Anna Karenina”), a country doctor in northern France her father hooked her up with. There is no trace of attraction or love between the two, leaving the marriage to be more of an arrangement than a union of the heart and mind. As Charles becomes preoccupied with his profession, Emma wiles away her time dreaming of the wealth and romance of what she understands to be Parisian life and soon, with the aide of an accommodating merchant, Lheureux (Rhys Ifans), she begins seeking out such a life. Through Lheureux, she purchases new dresses, furniture and other housewares, justifying the lush life with her excitement for “the newest and the best”, paying no mind to building credit. But she soon outgrows her penchant for fancy objects.

She yearns for a more passionate and arousing love life, instead of the minimal domestic life her marriage to Charles provides. Emma begins an affair with local landowner The Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green, somewhat bland), the kind of charmer she always pictured herself with as well as a fling with Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller, quite bland), who shares her love for the arts. Being in a small town though, both her carnal proclivities and exorbitant spending are eventually discovered and Emma inevitably must face the repercussions of her actions. Despite to restore what she has lost due to her impulsive behavior, Emma becomes physically and emotionally overwhelmed by the aftermath of her irresponsible actions.

Having not read Flaubert’s novel, I came to this film fresh and ignorant.  As mentioned above, the draw for me was Wasikowska. I anticipated a period piece, but I was not prepared for the almost Gothic  melodramatic approach to this morality tale of want and woe. Though not as Gothic and brooding as Wasikowska’s other literary adaptation, “Jane Eyre”, or as stylized as the macabre “Stoker”, offering a palpable restlessness and uncomfortable aura that Barthes’ unfortunately doesn’t go far enough with.

 

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It doesn’t help that the one actor who really stands out and convincingly sells the tone of the film is Wasikowska. That may not be a surprise, but it’s also an impossible task for one actor. It’s also unfair, when just about every other actor seems to be off in some other film with their character, it’s kind of hard to watch the lead carry the film. Even Paul Giamatti, who worked with Barthes in 2009 “Cold Souls“), seems to just ramble about as Monsieur Homais, a local pharmacist and colleague of Charles. If we were to take a tally of all Giamatti’s roles this year, this is the least ‘big’ performance. Either way, it’s not much of a character and he doesn’t bring much to the film.

But it doesn’t help “Madame Bovary” that Wasikowska is playing a character that is hard to empathize with. It’s not that we don’t care about her, it’s just that we don’t feel for her. That’s a problem for a story that is presumably about suffering. Again, I know nothing about the literary Emma, but this version makes such  impulsive, selfish and materialistic decisions that have no foundation. Obviously she’s desperate to feel – something, anything – but it’s just not that established in this version (this being the seventh film adaptation).

Ultimately, Emma comes across as petulant and only interested in something when it’s brand new or someone when things are going great. This “Madame Bovary”   starts and ends with her emotional suffering, but I found myself shrugging at everything in between. You can have all the great cinematography, costume designs and appropriate accents, but viewers still need a protagonist to get invested in. Since this is based on a beloved classic lit novel, methinks there’s something missing here.

 

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RATING: **

 

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