Shock, MA, 99 Mins
British cartoonist and graphic novelist Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe (filmed by Stephen Frears) was a Thomas-Hardy-influenced attack on pretentious, snobby English types, and this movie version of another of her works heartily mocks both the English (snobs again) and the French (randy and boozy) and proves, of course, nudge-nudge-wink-winkingly indebted to Gustave Flaubert’s then-racy 19th Century novel Madame Bovary.
Directed by Anne Fontaine (of the Australia-shot Adore or Adoration, depending upon where you saw it), this is narrated by Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), a publisher-turned-baker in rural Normandy whose favourite novel is, naturally, Madame Bovary (“He invented the bored housewife!”, Martin says of Flaubert at one point).
When a pair of young English marrieds move in across the street and he learns that their surname is Bovery, he’s immediately intrigued, but this turns to fascination when he spies the lovely Gemma (Gemma Arterton a.k.a. Tamara Drewe herself). Befriending the pair and with Gemma’s husband Charlie (sour Jason Flemyng) seemingly unaware of his neighbour’s obsession, Martin grows increasingly anxious at how Gemma appears to be mirroring Flaubert’s novel, especially when Charlie’s back is turned and she commences an affair with a young and goofy aristocratic sort named Hervé de Bressigny (doe-eyed Niels Schneider). Her path to self-destruction is apparently assured, according to Martin, although how much he’s inadvertently pushing her towards her supposed fate remains to be seen.
Beautifully shot in the most gorgeous of countryside locations, Fontaine’s take on Simmonds’ tale is full of broadly-drawn characters, and yet the performances are so strong that it hardly matters, with Flemyng, Schneider and Isabelle Candelier (as Martin’s long-suffering wife) slightly upstaged by Luchini (less bookish than we’ve seen him) and Arterton, who’s ludicrously sweet and overwhelmingly, almost impossibly English.