If the name of this film sounds kind of familiar to some of you, it probably should. Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary is considered amongst the greatest ever written. Written in 1856, it was widely criticized for being too salacious, yet, as is often the case, the increased attention from its many critics and detractors only seemed to help its sale. There have been no less than ten films either directly or obliquely inspired by the infamous novel, which just might make this the “Greatest Story Ever Sold”, but, because I am in the habit of reviewing only movies (as no one has yet seen fit to send me any books), I will now concern myself with the 1969 film adaption. Let us check out THE SINS OF MADAME BOVARY and see why, for over a century, readers have been saying that she is no lady.
“SINS” is the story of Emma Bovary, the socially aspiring, impossible to please wife of the clumsy, kindly small town doctor, Charles. Bored, obsessed, and incredibly high maintenance, she lusts for long hours in her parlor for all things while her husband treats the poor and unfortunate out of the quaint clinic that he runs from the Bovary Home. It is only after attending a gala ball given by the great and renowned Marquis d' Andervilliers that Emma gets a taste of the type of life that she feels she is entitled to, so she engages in a series of romantic liaisons with well to do men that she finds time to meet in secret. At first, her indiscretions are only based on intimacy and flirtation, but soon increase in both their passion as well as the sinister nature of the men she couples with. From the first moment where she enjoys a simple dance with a young duke to the final scene where she is blackmailed by an evil merchant, her affairs increase in volume and wantonness, until the final moment of the film where she finally finds her perfect match as a lover-if not a master, who can ultimately control her.
Now while I usually consider myself too cool to talk about the physical features of this actress or that, Edwige Fenech as Emma Bovary is this film's saving grace. Looking like a softer featured, hotter, better bodied version of Penelope Cruz, Miss Fenech really does elevate the admittedly tame-yet-stylized scenes of lovemaking. Also contributing to the ethereal quality of the torrid love scenes are the extravagant wardrobe that Mrs. Bovary models (illustrating in great detail how she drove her poor husband into the poorhouse which is actually the main plot's conceit). Still, despite ample nudity and the presence of the gorgeous Fencech, I got the distinct impression that this film wasn’t made with my (horny) demographic in mind, but, rather, fans of trashy dimestore romance novels of which all of the hallmarks are present.
1) It’s got seduction sequences which take forever to happen, and never even get very explicit when they do.
2) It’s based on tragic tale of betrayal and lust, which is often explored conversationally through emotional soliloquy instead of being acted out through action, violence, or the punishing ending of the actual book.
3) Its plotline revolves around a woman who spends so much on beautiful clothes that she actually ruins her husband, (Seriously, what woman doesn’t dream of that?)
All of these facets all but guarantee that this film, much like the novel, were aimed toward a female audience. What could be more compelling to a female audience than the secret sordid life of an insatiable society lady who lusts for all things, and yet may get more than she bargained for in the end? It is the foundation of every modern day soap opera and most reality shows; the secret sex lives of the rich and beautiful.
THE SINS OF MADAME BOVARY is a mostly accurate adaptation of the original novel, but, unlike the book, the film mentions very little of her courtship with Charles before their marriage became stagnant. As stated earlier, the ending of this film is a little kinder and gentler than how things actually turned out in the book. These deviations from the literary inspiration short change the character, and, if you watch without reading the novel first, it would seem that Emma had no qualities whatsoever other than being promiscuous, impetuous, and unloyal. Also the softer ending suggests that there was less of an ultimate price to be paid for her numerous and shameless infidelities. With no beginning to her love story with Charles, and no penance for her sins at the end, the resulting onscreen action all but destroys the character arc of Madame Bovary and makes her look like just another sexually liberated victim in a moral fable who (for her own sake) should have kept her clothes on. Of course, well behaved women seldom make history (especially in cult film) so this flick might just be the big, beautiful romantic tragedy in period dress that the woman in your life has always wanted to see. Admittedly, with her extensive, authentic French frilled wardrobe and the dark, brooding, always emotive eyes of Emma herself, you could use almost any still from this movie’s love scenes as a cover to a romance novel.
Most men (myself included) don’t like mere suggestive themes in their erotica. From the first moments we see “THAT FILM” in fifth grade health class, most of us boys like to have things explicitly explained if not “exposed” outright. As a piece of erotic cinema, I'd give The Sins of Madame Bovary 2 skulls for male audiences, and three skulls for female viewers. Despite the perfect portrayal of Mrs Bovary by the similarly “perfect looking” Edwige Fenech, my final thoughts on this film are best paraphrased by the slogan to an old anti-perspirant ad: “MADAME BOVARY-Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.”
Extras include a Photo Gallery.