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Capturing the essence of Madame Bovary

A new film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s French classic Madame Bovary, starring Mia Wasikowska and Ezra Miller, has just been released.

Considered to be one of the great masterpieces of 19th century literature, Madame Bovary tells the tragic story of Emma Rouault, whose unhappy provincial marriage leads her into two adulterous affairs — first with the young and intelligent Léon and then with the dashing and seductive Rodolphe.

The tragic story has been told and retold in a number of adaptations since the text’s original publication in 1856 in serial form. But what differences from the text should we expect in this film adaptation? Will there be any astounding plot points left out or added to the mix?

Film director Sophie Barthes explains one of the decisions she made that forces the film to deviate (at least slightly) from the text:

…[T]he choice was not to have a child which would be processing the whole story because in the book she’s very ambivalent about her child, and if you put only a few scenes then she just becomes a bad mother. And I think with Madame Bovary everything is much more complex than that. She’s not a bad mother, she’s just a conflicted person about everything. So all the little choices you’re making along the way, in the process you hope you don’t lose the spirit of the book.

An adaptation is, of course, a derivative work and allows for creative liberty. We see this with many film adaptations; it is not always necessary to recreate every detail or plot point in a book to get a certain theme or message across.

Despite her taking creative liberties, Barthes also explains that she captures what she hopes is the essence of the protagonist Emma Bovary:

She embodies a piece of [the] human condition. … The complexity of the character, her psychology, the fact that you can never really grasp who she is… she is an eternal character because she has very early bi-polarity. … There’s something about her that is very enigmatic and you can never fully grasp who she is.

As far as the director’s intentions are concerned, her adaptation of Madame Bovary will in fact do it justice. But we’ll leave that decision for you to make.

If you’ve seen the movie already, what did you think? Were the creative liberties justified, given its medium and 2-hour length? Let us know in the comments section.

Featured image: Madame Bovary. (c). Alchemy/Millennium Entertainment via NYTimes.com.

Recent Comments

  1. nikita

    “… her adaptation of Madame Bovary will in fact do it justice”.


    “Her real beauty was in her eyes. Although brown, they seemed black because of the lashes, and her look came at you frankly, with a candid boldness… Her hair, whose two black folds seemed each of a single piece, so smooth were they… She had, like a man, thrust in between two buttons of her bodice a tortoise-shell eyeglass.”

    Besides, Mdme Wasikowska would be considered seriously undernourished by Flaubert time standards. Lastly, if actors were stressing the correct syllable of “Bovari”, it won’t be so campish.

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