Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Madame Bovary

1934, France, directed by Jean Renoir

Unfortunately, I did not save the best for last when it came to my mini-Renoir festival. Obviously, even a longer film, never mind one reputedly butchered by its producers, cannot hope to include every nuance of a substantial novel, and that's not really my issue, more the fact that the visualization here tends to underline Emma Bovary's most unpleasant characteristics -- assuming that you accept that the book posits Emma as a kind of feminist heroine avant la lettre, this film seems to subvert those qualities, making her come across as merely obnoxious even considering the social strictures of 19th century bourgeois life. There are, of course, some pleasures -- specific scenes that are exceptionally well-constructed with respect to the use of space, fine set pieces, and the occasional moment of real emotional force. That said, I think one's mileage could be a good deal greater depending on how you react to the actors, especially Valentine Tessier in the lead role -- if you embrace Emma's onscreen theatricality as a reflection of her inner self, for instance, you might find the film more rewarding. Robert Le Vigan has yet another oily turn as the creditor who brings about Emma's downfall, and his delivery of the line "we're not Jews" in justification of his financial practices carries an inevitable charge given our knowledge of the actor's subsequent offscreen career. 

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States