Gemma Bovery (2015; Anne Fontaine)
By Daniel Barnes
*Plays at the Crest Theater in Sacramento on Saturday, June 20, at 4:20 p.m., as part of the 2015 Sacramento French Film Festival, and opens next week in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Set in sun-kissed Normandy, Gemma Bovery sits alongside this year’s Living is Easy With Eyes Closed as another warm and sleepily pleasant quasi-vacation masquerading as a drama.
This one gets an extra boost from the presence of Gemma Arterton in the title role, and from the fluid storytelling of director Anne Fontaine, who adapted the Posy Simmonds novel along with co-screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer.
Arterton plays an Emma Bovary-like unhappy wife whose soulful beauty and slo-mo bread-kneading skills disrupt “ten years of sexual tranquility” for a middle-aged, Flaubert-obsessed baker played by Fabrice Luchini (In the House).
As Gemma’s unhappy marriage begins to mirror Emma’s, the dissatisfied baker subtly starts to “direct” her into Bovary-esque affairs, even as he acknowledges that “this will end in death, Gemma.”
The film is relatively light-hearted and digestible for a tragedy, with an intoxicating sensual intelligence that forgives the occasional flights of flippancy.