Compared to that other famed desperate housewife of world literature, Tolstoy’s sympathetic Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary is, well, kind of a…word that I’m too well brought up to use. Especially as portrayed during Isabelle Huppert’s perfectly minimalist performance, she is more than a little superficial, unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and horribly unable to asess the consequences of her own actions. On the other hand, she’s no Paris Hilton, by which I mean she is still very recognizable as an actual human being, all to similar to anyone one of us (her creator, author Gustav Flaubert famously declared, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi!”). Still, the flavor of the story is dry – almost satirical. So, France’s ultra-prolific master of ultra-dry melodramas and tales of suspense, Claude Chabrol, makes perfect sense as the writer-director to bring Flaubert’s revered, frequently filmed novel to the screen. This 1991 production takes a worm’s eye of the tale, which has Emma coldly marrying a goodhearted but deadly dull doctor (Jean-François Balmer) simply to get out of the house. Bored literally to tears, she cuckolds him with a cold-blooded womanizer (Christophe Malavoy) and a seemingly more goodhearted law student (Lucas Belvaux), while literally spending the good doctor and herself to destruction. Yes, this is an evergreen story with a contemporary ring to it – and Chabrol’s cool, dispassionate, and not merely cynical eye is an appropriate counterpoint. This is no tearjerker, but it’s also impossible to stop thinking about this underplayed tragedy of a family destroyed by pretension, materialism, and self-involvement, with innocent victims all around.

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