Written by: Pascal Bonitzer & Anne Fontaine
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Mel Raido, Fabrice Luchini
Even if we enjoy everything our life brings, excitement is not necessarily a prerequisite to it. What could have once been a fast-paced lifestyle tends to slow down when retirement nears our doorstep. This means entertainment comes in different forms, and for the protagonist of this feature, a combination of factors makes for quite the voyeuristic and comical experience.
Moving to Normandy with his family, Martin (Fabrice Luchini) gains a curiosity in his new neighbors coming from London. He learns their surname is Bovery, which matches the name of his favorite novel. What begins as a fascination becomes an obsession for Martin as he sees Gemma (Gemma Arterton) struggle in the same ways as the character in the novel. Through slight interventions, he hopes to nudge her in the right direction.
On the surface and as a whole, the contents of this film can be boiled down to an older man spying on a younger woman and casting judgments on her. Yes, it sounds alarming and odd but the way this film comes together makes it not so creepy but rather endearing. Having it be an older man and a younger woman gives the perception of it being worse because of the gender dynamics on display, but it remains the fascination of a man seeing his favorite novel play out in front of him. Nothing truly sexual or lustful comes from Martin’s fixation with Gemma but rather for the entertainment of it all. Mix that with the tone and the incredibly strong direction by Anne Fontaine and it makes for a jolly good time.
The battle of perspective dominates this story as we see everything through the eyes of Martin but it’s truly Gemma’s story and how she falls into frivolous affairs. It creates such an interesting dynamic when taking in the narrative as a whole. It allows for two incomplete halves to try and paint one picture. The only things we see of Gemma are what Martin hears and sees, which leaves plenty of holes in Gemma’s overall story. Additionally, while we see the young woman’s actions, we do not get her internal processing of it all. Like when watching a movie or reading a book we need to fill in the blanks at times and it plays out in real life right in front of Martin.
Serving as the background is lovely Normandy with its rough roads and luscious greenery to surround it all. It matches the type of background a story like this would take place in, which makes for a perfect combination for it all to fit in. The breathtaking beauty becomes this gorgeous backdrop for the debauchery and voyeurism to thrive as with the limited people around there are only so many explanations for individuals to show up. This helps in putting the pieces together when seeing who Gemma interacts with and the ways Martin seemingly finds himself observing his subject. The sun-touched surroundings with the greenery bring this life-affirming quality to the feature that only assists in creating the world one would envision for these characters to play in.
The star of the show is the subject of it all, Gemma Arterton. Sharing the same first name as the titular character, Arterton carries everything needed for this role. With the physical beauty and demeanor to match, Arterton almost glides through this story as this figure Martin finds utterly captivating. It feels like this role was tailor-made for her and she effervescently galivants through the countryside getting into her shenanigans. This serves as the first role I’ve seen Arterton in and she has done nothing but continue to impress in the manner she carries herself as an actor. She thrives and shines.
This undoubtedly remains a director’s movie and Anne Fontaine dictates the tone and scope of this feature. Her deft direction allows this to be a breezy affair with its inherent risk to feel creepy overall. The way she manages the two halves allows for cohesion in the story and while little details remain in the fray, enough of it comes together to comprehend both how Martin feels and what Gemma experiences in this tumultuous phase in life.
Overall, a very enjoyable and breezy film that I found myself enchanted by. Gemma becomes someone utterly fascinating in her decision-making and therefore makes sense why Martin finds her life so invigorating. Cute, succinct, and very enjoyable there is plenty to appreciate here in the Normandy countryside but does serve as a good reminder that while you may be living your life off the cuff there could be others enjoying it along with you.