2015 | 118 minutes | Rated R
Sophie Barthes begins her elegant, restrained adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel Madame Bovary at the sad end before rewinding to the happy beginning. Emma (the period-perfect Mia Wasikowska), a French farmer’s daughter, beams with happiness as she prepares to marry Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), a country doctor. Barthes shoots every scene as if it were a Vermeer, with natural light neatly illuminating the tidy interiors. That light will gradually give way to shadow. After the wedding, Emma feels lost and alone. Charles sees her more as a helpmate than an equal partner, making her vulnerable to the attentions of a romantic law clerk (Ezra Miller), a sweet-talking merchant (Rhys Ifans), and a virile marquis (Logan Marshall Green, a fun-size Tom Hardy), all of whom possess qualities her husband lacks, leading to affairs, crippling debts, and a surgical operation for which Charles is ill-prepared. Wasikowska has a knack for generating empathy, which served Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre well, but Barthes’s cool, detached style leaves her Emma at a remove, especially as circumstances paint her into an increasingly tiny corner. It’s a worthy effort, but the existential fiction of Barthes’s debut, Cold Souls, in which the human essence could be bottled and sold, represented a better fit for her talents.
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