It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Madame Emma Bovary is one of the two or three most famous characters in French literature - but for her attitude more than for anything she says or does. She is famed for the vain romantic longings that were all that stirred her selfish and shallow personality. She is the kind of person who believes there must be more to life than this but never stops to wonder why there is so little to herself.
When Flaubert wrote about her in 1856, he was dramatizing a modern type that survives right down to the present. What is the difference between Madame Bovary's dreams of being swept off her feet at a neighbor's ball and the jaded Club Med regular who hopes to meet somebody really interesting this year? Those who believe that the solution to their boredom is external to themselves move restlessly from one disappointment to the next.
Claude Chabrol, the French New Wave veteran, specializes in lust, greed, adultery and crimes of passion. Period films are not his specialty. But here, with Isabelle Huppert in the title role, he has made a "Madame Bovary" that has been acclaimed in France, even though the novel was considered all but unfilmable. Huppert's key contribution to the role is a defiant passivity. She is bored, she is discontented with her good but stupid husband, she dreams of dancing all night, she is repressing a great deal of anger but has very little insight. Huppert here is a first cousin to the famous character she played in Chabrol's "Violette Noziere," where once again a woman placed her own desires ahead of common decency.
The story is well-known. Emma, daughter of a prosperous local landowner, marries Charles Bovary, the region's doctor (Jean-Francois Balmer).