Friday, June 12, 2015

Ambitious Is the Woman

Poor little Madame Bovary. She just wanted it all, no matter the cost.

Too bad she couldn’t really afford it.

Such is the drama of Madame Bovary, French-American director Sophie Barthes’ take on the 19th century classic by Gustave Flaubert, which opens – at looong last – today, with Mia Wasikowska in the title role.

No stranger to the rigors of a corset, having starred, for one, in 2011s Jane Eyre, Wasikowska thrusts herself, as usual, unto the character with a simmering passion that, obviously, can only boils to death (which it does – oh c’mon, you all read the book, yeah?). Madame Bovary’s is a story that ought to be told every once in a while, which is why I trust that you will think outside the box and seek it in a summer crowded with quaking citiesPitches, and Avengers.

As mentioned, Wasikowska plays our anti-heroine, Emma Bovary. When we first meet her, she is on the eve of her wedding to Charles (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), a doctor, praying that he, please, be the right one. For all intents and purposes, he is; I mean, he’s a handsome, talented man with nary a undesirable character trait. What more could you want, right?

Well, in a nutshell.... More. You could want more, which is what Emma craves. Charles is not the right one, for he is much too content living a risk-free life and working in a small town near Rouen in Normandy and he doesn’t want for the same things that she does – he has no ambition! When she prepares a seemingly extravagant dessert, he is surprised, yet unimpressed, favoring his traditional fruit instead. And when Emma peruses the lovely travel journals the predatorial merchant Monsier Lheureux (Rhys Ifans) has given her (doesn’t the Orient sound swell?), Charles tells her to get real.

This will not do for Emma, and, thus, soon – when she’s not shopping up a storm from Lheureux (on credit, natch) – she turns her eye to others than her husband. To men who, perhaps, can better suit her tastes. First comes Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller), a fellow described as the last romantic left in all of France. He further feeds her soul’s yearning desire for a bigger, grander world (for he has been to Paris, Charles, and he has seen, he has seen...yep, more). And then comes the even-more-tempting Marquis (Prometheus’ Logan Marshall-Green), a richer and even wronger man that entrances her on a much deeper level but who ultimately breaks her heart.

But not quite romantically. Emma Bovary, I think, isn’t a woman prone to such matters. Hers isn’t a fairy-tale-type of story. She lives in a world of machinations and tragedy, always in a state of nothing’s ever good enough. She is her own worst enemy. Alas, unlike her counterpart in London, Becky Sharp, she isn’t going down the rabbit hole with a f----you attitude.

Emma Bovary feels entitled to better than she got just because, and Madame Bovary, at its most realist best, is a fascinating portrait of that way of thinking and being, and one that is full of ennui, to boot. That dissatisfaction makes up the first two thirds of the film, and while it might feel like a drag, Wasikowska makes you see, if not feel the wheels turning at an increasingly desperate intensity.

It may not be the most exciting film of the season – exciting as in bombastic like, boom, boom – but Madame Bovary deserves and audience. It’s something different than what you’re getting at the multiplex, anyway, which is the catnip the character responds to the most, so do it for her.

My Rating ***


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