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Madame Bovary
cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Francois Balmer, Christophe Malavoy, and Jean Vanne

director: Claude Chabrol

137minutes (PG) 1991
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
France, the 19th Century. Emma Rouault (Isabelle Huppert), the romantically inclined daughter of a country squire, marries the local doctor, Charles Bovary (Jean Fran´┐Żois Balmer). Unfortunately, marriage soon loses its charm for Emma, and she finds living with Bovary is stupefyingly dull. She enters into love affairs with a landowner, Rodolphe Boulanger (Christophe Malavoy), and a law student, Leon Dupuis (Lucas Belvaux), and soon her debts mount up...
   Scandalous to the point of being tried for obscenity when first published, Gustave Flaubert's tragic novel is now recognized as one of the great works of French literature. The story has had an obvious attraction for filmmakers, with so far at least eight adaptations for the big screen, not to mention other versions for TV. Claude Chabrol's film is something of a departure from his usual genre of suspense thrillers among the bourgeoisie, and it's only a partial success. Although she was too old to play the younger Emma, you can't fault Isabelle Huppert's command of acting technique, with the smallest of expressions conveying great emotions. However, she may ultimately be a victim of miscasting, as the film simply doesn't have the impact that it should. For two-and-a-quarter hours, we admire the craft of a scrupulously well-made film, and for the fact that it's very faithful to the novel. To the letter, that is: something went awry in this film's chemistry, as the spirit of one of the world's great tragic passionate love stories is missing.
   Arrow's DVD has an anamorphic transfer (which is a little too dark in places), and a French soundtrack in Dolby digital 2.0 mono, with optional English subtitles. The extras are extensive, but potential buyers should note that they are all in French without any subtitles. They comprise: cast and crew biographies, the theatrical trailer, an interview with Huppert, 10 trailers for other Chabrol films, an extract from Jean Renoir's 1936 version, an introduction to the present film from Joël Magny, a commentary on five selected scenes by Chabrol, an extract from Bonnes addresses du passé (a French TV programme from 1962 which took a look round Flaubert's house), an extract from The Faces Of Madame Bovary (a TV news report on the location shoot).