Soon after the death of his first wife (whose dowry was inadequate), Charles Bovary, a country doctor in Normandy, marries Emma Rouault, who is well-endowed in every sense. In her new home,...
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Soon after the death of his first wife (whose dowry was inadequate), Charles Bovary, a country doctor in Normandy, marries Emma Rouault, who is well-endowed in every sense. In her new home, Emma finds conflict with her mother-in-law, a husband uninterested in the social whirl, and general discontentment; thereby proving an easy conquest for philanderer Rodolphe. Other lovers follow. Does tragedy await? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Excellent and the best of the four versions seen, but could have done with being longer though
If you haven't read Madame Bovary, it is highly recommended as it is a masterfully written, poetic, powerful and moving if also biting and unrelenting- like with the anti-clerical stuff- with a titular character that is definitely one of the most difficult literary characters to pull off, so you can understand also why it caused controversy at the time. Of the four versions(the others being the decent 2000, truly beautiful if comparatively restrained 1949-with the incredible ballroom sequence-, and the beautifully mounted if emotionally cold 1991 versions) seen so far by me, it was this one by Jean Renoir that satisfied the most. Not completely satisfying, some of the editing is clumsy but even more of a caveat is the length which is too short(an hour and forty minutes is not enough), Renoir intended for the film to be twice as long and there are times where it does show. The production values are sumptuous and doesn't have a studio bound look really, not as evocative as the later versions but there is evidence of authenticity. Renoir's photography is very clever with some angular shots and also some distant ones that show some intimacy and the sense that we as a viewer are there observing. Darius Milhaud's music score compliments the moods of the story very well, mixing the sympathetic tragedy(without being syrupy) and passion without a problem. The dialogue does show some poetry and has sparkle, something that didn't happen with the 1991 version which had the poetry but not the emotional sparkle as a result of being too faithful most likely.
The film and its script flows well and lets us get to know the characters, there is that passionate love, that Emma is not someone to easily sympathise with but also a victim of her own passions and also the ability to make Emma and her husband Charles identifiable to us and equally(and it does these the best of any of the four versions put together). The story is truncated but the content and spirit is faithful with an intensely poignant finale and the feeling of stuffy French provincial life(though the inclusion of the wedding scene may have made that come out even more strongly), the anti-clerical statements are toned down and understandably. The performances from the supporting cast are good especially from Max Dearly's unscrupulous Homais, Ferdinand Fabre's suave Rudolphe and Pierre Larquay's Hippolyte, though admittedly Daniel Lecourtis is on the wooden side as Leon and L'Heureux while still well portrayed by Robert Vigan has been more menacing in later versions(screen time maybe). But it is the two leads that dominate, Valentine Tessier is not the most attractive Emma(that would be Jennifer Jones) but she captures the coldness, passions, vulnerability, wayward flightiness and sympathy the most convincingly. Pierre Renoir, brother of Jean, is equally outstanding, he gets completely that with Charles' oafishness that he can be insensitive and a dork but also because he is mild-mannered and somewhat wronged that he is also one of the more empathetic characters in the book. In conclusion, excellent but needed a longer length to completely do this great story justice. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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