Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Blu-ray/DVDebut: That Bovary dame is back via Sophie Barthes and Mia Wasikowska

Coming on the heels of one of the year's most enjoyable comedies -- Gemma Bovery, which holds a skewed but very funny mirror up to Flaubert's famous novel -- this latest screen rendition of the French classic certainly proves pretty to look at (fine cinematog-raphy and costuming) and pleasant to listen to (via the some-times plummy sounds of a classy international cast). And yet, as it moves slowly along, it becomes more and more bloodless, even tiresome.

The problem, I suspect, is the usual one when adapting an ultra-famous and revered novel into a two-hour movie: How do you pack in all the detail needed to make your characters rich and real, while coming within touching distance of their on-the-page counterparts. Too often you don't, and I'm afraid that, regarding MADAME BOVARY, directed by Sophie Barthes (shown at left) and adapted by Ms Barthes and Felipe Marino, this is the case once again.

What TrustMovies remembers, from when he first read the novel several decades ago, Barthes and Marino have been relatively faithful to it, choosing events and situations  wisely enough to unveil the characters of Emma, her husband, various lovers and friends -- especially the fellow who gets her in the most trouble, an unscrupulous "decorator," played with marvelous and sleazy serpentine grace by Rhys Ifans.

Emma's fall as both a "moral" person in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of the reader/viewer who fully understand how this happens and who else beside our put-upon heroine are also to blame -- all the men who surround her, including her husband, as well as society itself --  is what makes the novel so powerful. But that power is barely seized upon by the movie-makers and their cast.

Mia Wasikowska (above and above) is generally a very fine actress, and she does what she can in this film, too. Never a major beauty, here she uses her face and her intelligence to create a character who tries to take what she can from her somewhat circumscribed life. But Wasikowska is stymied by a screenplay and dialog that too often seem prosaic and expository. Imagining how folk spoke and behaved in eras past is not the easiest thing to capture, but I've certainly seen it done better than it is here. The "look" is fully there, but neither the dialog nor the innate behavior is brought well enough to life.

The supporting cast is equally stymied by the film's failure to come fully alive. Actors like Paul Giamatti (above, second from right) and Ezra Miller (below, left) seem hemmed in by costume and environment. (Giamatti did much better in Ms Barthes' Cold Souls, while Miller seems to have placed his usual energy and focus on hold).

For viewers unfamiliar with anything but the novel's name and storied reputation, seeing this film will likely put them in that frame of mind that asks, once the movie is over, "This is some big-deal classic?"

From Alchemy, spoken in English and running exactly two hours, both the DVD and Blu-ray of Madame Bovary hit the streets yesterday, August 4, for purchase and/or rental.

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