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April 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Sins of Madame Bovary (1969)

When I first received this disk, I groaned. Another boring late sixties sleaze fest based on material that was considered risque a hundred years ago. And although I am sure it did fine box office in its day, based solely on it's ad campaign emphasizing it sexual elements, I was surprised to find a remarkably faithful, fairly well-produced, and even tame adaptation of Flaubert's masterpiece. So tame, in fact, that excising less than a minute of breast shots and this could be shown on broadcast TV today.

Buy The Sins of Madame Bovary on DVD

Released in 1969, this Italian film is now presented (by One 7 MOVIES DVD) in 2.35:1 aspect ration and with crisp new subtitles. The sex is so tame that the only real attractions here are the nice production values - beautiful locations and period costumes - the sumptuous color photography, and stunning Edwige Fenech in the "tit"ular role. She is transcendentally sexy.

The story, as I said, is pretty faithful to the novel. Emma Bovary is married to a kindly but poor country doctor who is paid in eggs and chickens. When they are invited to a ball, not being able to afford a gown, she remakes her wedding dress and stuns the crowd. She dances with a viscount who tries to seduce her, but whom she manages to resist - that night. She becomes obsessed with the viscount and the more exciting life he represents, but before she can consummate anything with him, he is killed in a duel. Her doctor husband accepts a practice in slightly more upscale village of Jonvilles, and she give birth to a baby girl. Soon she falls for a local business man named Rudolphe and eventually they do the nasty. She is blackmailed by the dressmaker who keeps her fashionable on credit; he starts to demand favors instead of cash, but she manages to keep him at bay for a time. When she makes plans to run off with Rudolphe, he leaves without her, jilting her. Soon Emma takes up with Leon, who has admired her for years. She begins to enjoy the power she has over her young lover, even more than the passion that brought her to him in the first place. Emma continues to use the people around her, ignoring her husband and daughter, and driving them closer and closer to financial ruin. Finally, she is forced to sell her body to the character she finds most repellent - her dress maker to whom she is indebted. She is gripped with remorse, and forced into a complex moral reckoning.

The movie opens with shots of Van Gough paintings. The gorgeous photography emphasizes the scenery and colors, recalling those painting for a welcome bit of elegance.

As I said, the movie plays it pretty straight and does not exaggerate the novel's erotic elements. If it had gone pure sleaze, I would have had to review it differently, and hold it to a different standard - how erotic is the eroticism? How cleverly are the sex scenes staged - However, since the film makers decided to taker a higher route, so must I. For all it's visual beauty, nice production values and even hand, the movie fails to get inside Emma's head and therefore remains pretty but dull. I wanted to like it more, That's the best I can say.

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