French author Gustave Flaubert is on trial for writing the "indecent" novel "Madame Bovary." To prove that he wrote a moral tale, Flaubert narrates the story of beautiful Emma Bovary, an adulteress who destroyed the lives of everyone she came in contact with. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
The Breen Office opposed the film, saying that it had too many controversies and innuendo; everything from the make-up to the kissing scenes had to be slightly toned down to appease the censors. See more »
There are those who are offended by her, and who see in Emma Bovary's life an attack upon public morality. Gentlemen of the court, I maintain that there is truth in her story, and that a morality which has within it no room for truth is no morality at all. Men may dislike truth. Men may find truth offensive and inconvenient. Men may persecute the truth, subvert it, try by law to suppress it. But to maintain that men have the final power over truth is blasphemy and the last illusion. Truth lives...
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Madame Bovary is a difficult piece to translate to film. It is very easy for the heroine to become either dislikable: either willfull (the PBS version with Francesca Annis) or peevish (the Isabelle Hubert french version).
What Minnelli so masterfully and ironically captures here is the "dream machine" that drives Madame Bovary (and society) to be dissatisfied with their daily lives, to want and need more and therefore to be perpetually unhappy with what they have. Of course, Minnelli was part of that machine for Hollywood, which is the irony. Here he uses the period-correct analogy of romance novels and magazine ads (and to a lesser extent operas and plays) as vehicles that feed and drive Bovary's dissonance with her reality. (James Mason as Flaubert, too!)
The irony that Flaubert was faulted for denegrating the french woman is fully captured here as well. This version still doesn't get to a real meaty statement of realization that men were not considered immoral or corrupt it they have affairs and forget about their children; but women were. Personally, I think that may have been one of Flaubert's real points - this same behavior would have been tolerated and venerated in a male.
Where this production succeeds so brilliantly over the others I mentioned is in the writing and performance of Emma. She is clearly delineated as being a victim of the commercials of her time - the ultimate consumer, and therefore very identifiable. Jone's own personal charm also factors in here. Her fresh innocence and desire to be liked and to entertain come through the role and make her sweeter. Annis is often a bit self satisfied and Hubbert ice cold, making their Emmas less likable, although perfectly valid and well performed roles, just the difference that writing, production and acting bring to the role.
Minnelli liked women and identified with foibles. He gives a very nice slant to Dr. Bovary, too. (Gives him a little more self knowledge and honor than Flaubert did, which also colors the relationship and the film.) Louis Jordan as her dream man is also colored very nicely here, as being sincerely in love with her and very conflicted. Something he does very well, and this all creates a marvelously satisfying production and package. When you add the great score, you have a very fine film indeed.
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