Sydney Film Festival Review: Madame Bovary (USA, Germany & Belgium, 2014)


Madame Bovary is a pleasant film but it’s an unnecessary adaption. The iconic novel by Gustave Flaubert has been adapted multiple times for film and television over the past few years. But what distinguishes this latest offering is that it is the first one to be directed by a female (Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls)). Here, the story focuses on the female protagonist’s perspective but the result is often a little too slow, nuanced and flat as far as period dramas go.

Our very own, Mia Wasikowska stars and absolutely shines as Emma Bovary. She is a conflicted woman and a heroine that is sometimes a little difficult to relate to. She has humble beginnings as the daughter of a farmer but her hopes and expectations are very high when she marries a small town doctor (Henry Lloyd-Hughes).

Married life is not bliss as far as Bovary is concerned. Her husband proves to be rather boring and safe even though he is also quite logical and practical. What Bovary is left with is a sense of longing for something more. She embarks on some extra-marital affairs with the handsome Marquis (Logan Marshall-Green) and a sweet and ambitious young law clerk (Ezra Miller who proves to be an interesting choice). Bovary also attempts to fill the void in her heart and existence by buying too many pointless things from the manipulative and shrewd Monsieur Lheureux (an unrecognisable, Rhys Ifans).

It is obvious that Bovary will eventually become undone by this self-destructive and pleasure-seeking behaviour as this only offers temporary relief of her depression. Things spiral out of control to become a tragic romance story. But this film does take a lot of time to get there and it really only picks up in the final act.

Madame Bovary attempts to remain faithful to the source material insofar as the costumes and settings feel authentic. There have been some changes made to the plot with the most noticeable difference being the omission of Bovary’s child from the story and the shift away from the husband’s perspective. A drawback is that all of the actors use a hodgepodge of different accents from English to American and French. This does leave things feeling rather muddled at times and this is tough because it also feels like a story spanning multiple years has been shoe-horned to fit a period that feels like months.

The film does succeed by having a wonderful score and the sparse dialogue only adds to the intense and lyrical feel overall. There is a lot of silence and close-ups on offer, which lends it a personal and intimate touch. But for all of the positives of this film (not least some good performances from the ensemble cast) this period drama only feels like a decent one and at times this can be chalked up to something being lost in translation.


Madame Bovary premiered at Sydney Film Festival on June 4. It opens in Australian cinemas on July 9.


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