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She is, of course, one of literature s
most famous and tragic heroines, and
so it s no surprise that directors from
Jean Renoir (1934) to Vincente Minnelli
(1949) to Claude Chabrol (1991) have
tried to immortalize Gustave Flaubert s
frustrated, yearning 19th-century
housewife on film. But the task has
proven exceedingly difficult.
Now, tantalizingly, we have a female
to capture Emma s devastating story.
Sad to say, Barthes version doesn t break
much ground. In fact, though it s often
beautiful and stars the usually compelling
Mia Wasikowska, the film is maddeningly
flat, and at times simply tiresome.
The curiosities of this version start at
the very beginning. We see Emma run-
ning through the woods in a lovely
embroidered dress, clutching at her stom-
ach, clearly suffering. Soon she s lying
on the ground, turning deadly pale.
Barthes is, essentially, giving us the
end before the start. It would have been
more effective to get there gradually. We
now need to put this image behind us,
and focus on how Emma got to her
moment of crisis. But the drama of the
next 117 minutes never lives up to that
of the first.
After the opening, we go back to
Emma s school years in a rural Normandy
convent. Her education is ending,
though; Emma is to be married to a
country doctor chosen by her father.
Barthes does a lovely job portraying a
simple French country wedding, with a
church ceremony and family meal in the
Soon Emma s off in a horse-drawn
carriage to her new life. Charles Bovary
(Henry Lloyd-Hughes) is a very decent
but dull man, with few ambitions other
than to serve the local townspeople.
Emma dreams of something more.
One of this film s main problems sur-
faces early: a strange disconnect in the
way the actors sound. They speak in
English, but in their own accents---French
accents, British accents, American
accents. Wasikowska, though she s Aus-
tralian, sounds like she s in the mod-
ern-day US and her very contemporary
manner of speaking becomes increasingly
jarring in this period piece.
When the disillusioned Emma meets
Leon, a young, handsome law clerk (Ezra
Miller), we know there s going to be
trouble. She rejects his amorous advances,
reminding him she s married, but when
she hears he s moving to nearby Rouen
to pursue his studies, she falls apart. "I
imagined that this would be the happiest
time in my life," she weeps to her house-
hold maid. "Is my future just a dark cor-
ridor with a bolted door at the end?"
Emma s road to ruin---adultery---comes
first with the handsome, rakish Marquis
(Logan Marshall-Green), who invites the
couple to a hunt at his estate. To clothe
herself properly, Emma seeks out local
merchant Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys
Ifans, amusingly villainous and injecting
life into the proceedings), who agrees to
make her a lovely riding dress on cred-
it---the start of a dangerous relationship.
Soon, other dangerous relationships
form. Emma succumbs to the physical
charms of the Marquis. While cheating
on Charles, she s also filling their home
with beautiful carpets and silks from
Monsieur Lheureux---none of which her
oblivious husband can afford. Then, her
lover bails on her---commitment issues,
of course, plus he s French.
Once recovered from that trauma,
Emma reconnects with young Leon, but
that affair, too, will end in tatters. And
then Lheureux comes calling for his
Readers know what happens. Alas,
along the way to the screen, much of
the famous detail in Flaubert s novel has
gotten lost somewhere in those beautiful,
misty woods that Emma frequently
escapes to, and where our story ends.
This movie may find you wanting to
pick up the book to fill those gaps.
Which isn t a bad thing at all, of
"Madame Bovary," an Alchemy release,
is rated R by the Motion Picture Asso-
ciation of America "for some
sexuality/nudity." Running time: 118 min-
utes. Two stars out of four.
What is it about Emma Bovary?
Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary, in Alchemy's
Madame Bovary. The film opens in US theaters
today. AP PHOTO
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