‘Gemma Bovery’
Anne Fontaine
Stars: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Gemma Bovery” is a light French romp with an angry feminist subtext bubbling just underneath. It’s a riff on classic lit, much like the “Far from the Madding Crowd” riff “Tamara Drewe,” which, not coincidentally, also starred Gemma Arterton and was written by Posy Simmonds. Fabrice Luchini plays Martin, a modern day academic who wound up, against his wishes, a small town baker. He’s amused when his new neighbors turn out to be Gemma and Charlie Bovery (Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemyng) — just a few letters off from Flaubert’s famed Emma and Charles Bovary. Martin takes it further: He starts to imagine that Gemma is Madame Bovary reincarnated, and he’s amused when events start to mimic the adultery plot in one of his very favorite novels. And when they veer off in their own direction, he either tries to orchestrate that they get back on track or prevent her from turning too Emma.

It’s possible to enjoy “Gemma Bovery” as a fizzy comedy, complete with a reliably befuddled Luchini as our lightly antiheroic guide. It’s also easy to read this as something darker: as a movie where three men try to define and box in a woman. Gemma herself remains somewhat unknowable, though Arterton is winning and personable; it’s impossible to imagine her being contained by men, especially the stupid and vain ones that populate “Gemma Bovery.” As the film grinds on, as its tone grows more grim than one would have expected, the possibility that someone so alert and alive could be destroyed, and for such silly reasons, becomes all too real.

“Gemma Bovery” can be too neat. It’s been directed by Anne Fontaine, of “Coco Before Chanel” and the dreaded “Adore” — the most boring movie ever made in which Naomi Watts and Robin Wright bang each other’s young sons. She’s handcrafted into a tasteful Euro export. Her mode is not the same as Arterton and Luchini’s, who are both acting in a sprightlier, more clever film. It’s still sly. It doesn’t OD on the kitsch of modernizing an old text, like, as it were, “Tamara Drewe” did. It takes the very act of reworking an old war horse as part of its text — that the very attempt to recreate classic fiction for modern times can be destructive. Undervalue “Gemma Bovery” and it will smack you upside the head.

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