The premise of Gemma Bovery would lead one to believe that this is a story about life imitating art. Gemma and Charlie Bovery (Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemyn), two hipster Londoners, move to pastoral Normandy, to the village where Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary. The coincidence is not lost upon their across-the-road neighbor Martin Joubert (Fabrice Lucini), who begins to see much of Flaubert’s eponymous heroine Emma Bovary in the charming and dissatisfied Gemma, and much of Madame Bovary’s husband Charles in Gemma’s oblivious Charlie.
Joubert becomes obsessed with Gemma, he is wildly attracted to her and is a former city-dweller who is similarly dissatisfied with country life. When Gemma, like the literary character she resembles in both name and spirit, embarks on an extramarital affair with a handsome student home from school, Hervé de Bressigny (Niels Schneider), Joubert becomes consumed with jealousy and plots to end the affair, setting Gemma, her husband, her lover, and Joubert himself down a path that, again, like the novel the story borrows from, ends in tragedy.
Though many characters and plot points of the movie resemble the classic novel (if you’ve never read the book or it’s been a while, you might want to do a quick Sparknotes or Wikipedia review before catching the movie, if nothing else, so the recurring arsenic jokes make sense/are funny), where the novel and the film differ is their message. Madame Bovery is a story about a woman struggling to escape her empty life. Gemma Bovery is about the men who make a woman’s life feel dull and oppressive. The husband that does not hold up his end of the marriage, the lover that puts her on a pedestal, and the neighbor, who stands in for the male gaze at large, a man that obsesses with sleeping with this woman and then inserts himself into her life to punish her when she does not return the sentiment.
The film uses a classic story to smartly critique how a patriarchal society first reveres, then annihilates a woman. It’s a charming movie with a message that packs a powerful punch.