Madam Bovary | Third Space

Madam Bovary

Visually stunning, but aesthetics are not enough to save this film

Madam Bovary

Wed 22 Feb 2017
Visually stunning, but aesthetics are not enough to save this film

3 out of 5 stars

It is a literary classic, but this may be the first time this generation has engaged the story of Madame Bovary. Set in provincial 19th century northern France, Emma Bovary is a misunderstood soul who desires more than the small country town lifestyle. She is beautiful and loved, but an enigma to most of the people who come into her life. Her father, the boarding school nuns and her husband, Dr. Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) have an adoration for her, but do not know what to do with her wandering spirit. Her arranged marriage to this community physician affords her a certain position within this small community's societal life but she soon finds that life as a doctor's wife, is not as glamorous as she thought and she seeks satisfaction from her boredom. Emma finds solace in decorating her home, wearing the latest fashion and living out the romance she desires in the arms of other men. Eventually, her overspending and the extra-marital relationships are all brought to light and Emma must come to terms with the repercussions of these revelations.

Before dismissing this structure as a run of the mill romance novel, stop to consider that this classic tale provides something unexpected in literature. Gustave Flaubert’s tragic tale explores the multiple layers of the feminine heart and what happens to someone when they painstakingly seek after the life that was not meant to be. This rich story is laden with emotion and intrigue. The key to a good film is a rich story. Madame Bovary provides just such a tale, but this cinematic implementation does not match the depth of Flaubert's novel.

Sophie Barthes delivers a realistic view of 19th century France by depicting the look and feel of Emma Bovary's life as a societal lady in a small town. The landscapes and French countryside provide a canvas for Barthes to paint an emotional backdrop for her acting talent. Leaving the comments about the multiplicity of accents to a minimum and focusing on the actors themselves, (Couldn't they have at least attempted a French lilt to their delivery?) the casting missteps came in the lead characters of Mia Wasikowska and Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Wasikowska has proven her skills in portraying women of this era in Jane Eyre, but she does not have the commanding presence to play the emotional layers and sensuality of Emma Bovary. She continues to prove herself as an actress, but does not rise to the challenge of this iconic literary figure. Similarly, Ezra Miller is a striking young man, but was woefully miscast. He does not have a commanding presence on the screen and comes off like a love-sick school boy throughout the film. These central characters let Barthes' direction down and ultimately fail to provide a satisfactory experience. Paul Giamatti and Henry Lloyd-Hughes should get a nod as under-utilised talent, but the support characters cannot make up for the leads. If Barthes does redeem herself in choosing talent it was with the casting of Rhys Ifans (Sherlock) as the devious Monsieur Lheureux. He has the ability to sweep into each scene and convince Madame Bovary and the audience that he is an ally, but proves to be the unassuming villain. Barthes provides a beautiful backdrop for her portrait of Madame Bovary, but neglected to find the right individuals to complement the cinematic canvas.

Flaubert was known to be artistic with his words and even in this less than effective interpretation of his novel, the tragedy that is Madame Bovary draws the audience into her captivating world. How this man was able to deliver a story that seems to capture the heart of the dissatisfied woman is amazing to consider. His story shows us how easy it is to miss out on what is important in this life and provides a multitude of entry points into the considerations for envy, satisfaction and contentedness. Showing that when striving to find satisfaction in mere things or people, they will ultimately fail to provide the answers that exist beyond this life. It is unfortunate that the cinematic experience could not match the richness of the original story, but even in this weak delivery, Madame Bovary does allow for engagement and contemplation of the bigger ideas of life.

Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?

1. Why is love essential to life? (Matthew 22:26-40, 1 Corinthians 13)

2. Can we find redemption for our lives? (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14)

3. What should we do with the boring parts of life? (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, Proverbs 19:15)

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