A review of “Madame Bovary,” an adaptation of Flaubert’s 19th-century novel, starring Mia Wasikowska. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Sophie Barthes’ “Madame Bovary” begins with an arresting image: A ghost-pale Emma Bovary (Mia Wasikowska) running through a damp forest, wearing a dress whose sallow green skirt is soaked with mud around the hem, as if pulling her down to the earth. She falls, clutching her stomach; we see a vial clutched in her hand. It’s the end of the story, at the beginning.
This isn’t exactly how Flaubert’s 1856 novel told it, but this “Madame Bovary” is its own creature; trimming away much of the novel (gone are Emma’s child, husband Charles’ parents, and indeed much of Charles himself, among other characters) to focus solely on its heroine. Married to a country doctor she barely knows, Emma soon finds herself nearly sick with boredom; playing the piano, doing embroidery and buying pretty baubles from the local draper (a leering Rhys Ifans) do little to assuage the tedium of how, as she says, “one after another, the days came, always the same, bringing nothing.” Two lovers — one rich (Logan Marshall-Green), one young (Ezra Miller) — enter the picture, but Emma still can’t find contentment; she is, as one of them observes, perpetually “standing under an apple tree, wishing to smell of orange blossoms.”
Wasikowska, who’s made something of a specialty of ashen 19th-century heroines (“Jane Eyre,” “Alice in Wonderland,” the upcoming “Crimson Peak”), makes Emma flat-voiced and a bit of a cipher; you sense that perhaps too much of this character was left on the page. (Then again, the book’s heroine is something of an enigma as well.) But the film, though hardly uplifting, is full of small pleasures: Laura Carmichael (in a neat role-reversal from Lady Edith Crawley on “Downton Abbey”) conveying volumes with mostly silent, anxious stares as Emma’s maid Henriette; Miller’s passionate yet hesitant Leon; Christian Gasc and Valerie Ranchoux’s handsome costumes, expressing both Emma’s fondness for rich shades of blue and russet and how her constricting clothes entrap her; Andrij Parekh’s moody cinematography, letting us almost smell the fireplace wood, the flickering candles, the wet trees. This “Madame Bovary” may not quite be Flaubert’s, but it’s lovely to look at all the same.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Madame Bovary,’ with Mia Wasikowska, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Ezra Miller, Laura Carmichael, Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans, Logan Marshall-Green. Directed by Sophie Barthes, from a screenplay by Felipe Marino and Barthes, based on the novel by Gustave Flaubert. 118 minutes. Rated R for some sexuality/nudity. Sundance Cinemas (21+).