France. A highly French movie. A good understanding of Flaubert’s 19th century novel of a similar name is required to totally get the humor; but everyone has read that book, of course, this is France!
The actress playing the titular role is astonishingly and unaffectedly beautiful. I doubt if many such women are aware of the seismic reaction many … well, most … well, all straight men have to such beauty. Why would they when, like our male lead, we do everything we can to keep it hidden. I was in Julia’s 13 Carrots restaurant one morning many, many years ago, back when it was trendy. A nearby table contained a couple who, I sensed, had spent one of their first nights together. The guys back was to me, and we were both facing the door through which walked a strikingly attractive, voluptuous woman. Dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, completely not even trying. The guy lowered his fork to his plate and, to the increasing discomfort of his companion, whom I was facing, just stared at the beauty. He actually turned in his chair, rapt, eyes firmly fixed on the beauty, and watched as she progressed past me to a table. He turned back around to a radically different reality that the one he had, for those moments, occupied. The guy’s companion remonstrated with him with some heat, and he stammered an explanation that was not very enlightening, certainly not to her. I both sympathized with the guy and knew that he would never explain it.
The guy in the movie was way cooler than that. To the movie’s credit it is not spelled completely out how much of his inner reactions his own wife was tuned into, but my read is, all of it. The MacGuffin of the movie is that Gemma’s experiences are all prefigured by the story of Flaubert’s novel. One is expected to know the ending, which is not good. The guy, the village baker (the guy who makes that unbelievable bread they have every day, great bread making scenes, by the way) sees it all happening. It is the nature of oracles that we only understand them after they have come to pass, of course.
The movie is not exactly an adaptation of Madame Bovary. Several layers of story telling are going on. The movie is from the point of view of our baker and the story is really about him, it hinges on another story written by Flaubert 150 years ago, and is focused on his observations of a person who is recapitulating what appears to be a 21st century rural French version of similar events.
Its a funny movie. Marion loved it. Here is the Siff blurb