November is the month of love on the blog–specifically love for the Blog Collab and our partnership. In line with age-old tradition, our theme for this month revolves around choosing films that remind us of each other. This week is Christa’s pick, and I think I’ve done well for myself if period dramas are the films immediately associated with me.
Madame Bovary (2014)
France. Extramarital affairs. Massive debts as a result of too many gold encased centerpieces. You know the drill.
If 150+ years isn’t long enough to catch up on the basic plot of this story, this film considerately drops a few hints right away that it doesn’t end super well for the titular Madame Bovary. Guess what? Being a middle class married woman in the 19th century French countryside isn’t usually the most fun in literature.
Short diversion: though set in France, this adaptation feels English AF, and the accents are confusing. We have pseudo-French, British, American, and a few I couldn’t identify super easily. Call me old-fashioned, but I want to hear actors in a French story at least make an attempt to put on a terrible French accent.
Returning to our story–almost immediately after her education in what looks like the world’s most boring martial arts school (but is actually a French convent), Emma marries a youngish doctor and moves to a small town outside of Rouen. Everyone is stoked about the good match she’s made and predicts she’ll enjoy a comfortable, quiet life with her husband. A ha ha. Ha.
For whatever reason, Paul Giamatti has a small role in this as a pharmacist/unintentional wingman for Emma. He introduces Emma to a young legal clerk, Leon, with the dubious honor of being the last romantic in France. Though Emma is really into this guy, the most scandalous thing she’s willing to do is walk slowly through a golden field with him. That seems to be the end of that (at least for now).
Bored with the countryside, Emma tries to convince her husband to move to a city with more excitement or at least some more dudes to scope out. Sorry, Emma–not going to happen. Her only consolation is buying expensive shit on credit so she’ll have a shiny new wardrobe and extravagant decor.
After some time, Emma meets a marquis at a really fancy fox hunting party (which also makes this story feel even more fucking English). Though initially Emma only offers friendship to the Marquis, she becomes tired with the constant disappointment that is life and begins an affair with him. Eventually, Emma plans to run away to Paris with the Marquis, but…that doesn’t work out very well for her. She does get some apricots out of it, though.
Luckily, Leon shows up again around this time. However, Emma has also amassed much more debt than her husband can ever pay off by this point. Unless Emma can rustle up 10,000 francs, she will lose everything. Guess who’s there for her in her hour of need?
Spoiler: it rhymes with marsenic.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I do always love the scenery, costumes, and symbolism of a period drama. The sweeping landscape shots are beautiful, though (again), there’s something about all of this that feels so English.
However, we’re sorely missing a glimpse into Emma’s inner workings. We see her reacting to feelings of emptiness and boredom without understanding where these feelings come from or what drives her to spending money and conducting affairs. She’s also described as intelligent yet overly romantic, but neither of these characteristics shines through. In this adaptation, Emma is actually somewhat boring herself and honestly not the brightest. As a result, there is very little redeeming about her character, and it’s difficult to be sad when she meets an unhappy end.
At a certain point, this film ends up feeling like it’s crossing off items on the period drama checklist: furtive glances at church, melancholy walks in the countryside, forbidden meetings at night. You can get all that and more from so many other period dramas, in addition to more fully developed characters and deeper significance (plus less confusing accents).