Gustave Flaubert’s notorious anti-heroine is brought to the screen by Claude Chabrol in this 1991 film, but the adaptation is so inert and shallow that one can easily assume this is a film version of the Cliff Notes version of “Madame Bovary.”
Visually, this is a handsome production – the costume design received an Academy Award nomination – but Chabrol only succeeds at a visual level. Emotionally, he never plumbs the anguish and anger of the eponymous madame – her isolation and jealousies come across as the petty contempt of a small minded, small town woman instead of the complex turmoil of a woman at war with herself.
The beautiful Isabelle Huppert never catches the vibe of Emma Bovary’s personality, and too often mistakes sneering with acting. Normally a vibrant screen presence, she spends too much of “Madame Bovary” merely as the indifferent occupant of fancy costumes. As Huppert is unable to provide the film with a heart and soul, the result is an enervated experience that is lovely to look at but difficult to endure.