6 June 2007 | Bunuel1976
MADAME BOVARY (Jean Renoir, 1933) **1/2
Drastically reduced by more than half its length (the original cut ran for an incredible three-and-a-half hours), this is still an artfully directed but rather cold adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel which is, unfortunately, marred by unsympathetic leads; Valentine Tessier is perhaps too old for the title role and she resorts to rather extreme histrionics at particularly strenuous points in the narrative. From the rest of the cast, those who come off best are Renoir’s own brother, Pierre (playing the cuckolded Monsieur Bovary), Max Dearly (as Bovary’s anti-clerical friend) and Pierre Larquey (as Hippolyte, a man on whom ambitious country doctor Bovary operates unsuccessfully).
An undeniable sense of anti-clericalism permeates the film both through the character of Homais (who is often seen discussing philosophical aspects with the Parish Priest) and especially during the scene in which Emma tries to confide her emotional turmoil to the oblivious Parish Priest. Having already brought NANA to the screen in 1926, Renoir would adapt yet another celebrated feminist work in the following decade, Octave Mirbeau’s THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1946), a little-seen adaptation which is not only among the best films Renoir made during his wartime exile in Hollywood but which I actually prefer to Luis Bunuel’s 1964 version!
Furthermore, I have watched two other cinematic renditions of MADAME BOVARY by great directors - Vincente Minnelli’s in 1949 with Jennifer Jones in the title role (which I have recently acquired on DVD via Warner Bros.’ “Literary Classics Collection” set) and the 1991 one helmed by Claude Chabrol (whom I met very briefly at the 2004 Venice Film Festival) with Isabelle Huppert as the eponymous heroine. According to the IMDb, there are at least 11 more of them, including a German one in 1937 with Silent film star Pola Negri and two which, judging from the snippets shown on the “After Hours” programme preceding this Italian TV screening of the Renoir version, seem quite intriguing: another German production in 1969 with, of all people, Edwige Fenech(!) and one made for Italian TV with Carla Gravina.