⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for sexuality/nudity and language. In subtitled French and English.
This bilingual dramedy is a reimagining of Gustave Flaubert’s 1857 love-hate classic “Madame Bovary,” brought up to date in the present and repopulated with characters moved to Normandy from London. If that takes it too far away from Flaubert, it’s actually based on English author Posy Simmonds’ 1999 “Gemma Bovery,” which reworked the originals into an Anglo-French graphic novel.
Fabrice Luchini plays Martin, whose bakery in a rural village connects him with his new neighbors, married artists relocated from England. Gemma (Gemma Arterton, “Quantum of Solace”) ignites Martin’s “jubilation.” She not only possesses magnifique looks, but her name resembles that of Flaubert’s romantic anti-heroine, who was bored in her marriage, debt-plagued and adulterous. Martin feels the same way, developing a crush he timidly hides from his alpha female wife. Through Gemma’s stay he keeps a watchful eye on her, hoping for a chance to move closer. Instead he jealously sees her develop liaisons with other male admirers.
Luchini, a sort of Gallic Steve Buscemi, is great at this sort of voyeuristic milquetoast role. The beguiling Arterton fills every scene with Venus de Milo grace. Martin’s frustration as Gemma moves dangerously to the same disastrous end as Flaubert’s character is aptly observed and the provincial locations are magnetically attractive. There’s even a pinch of the erotic passion that had Flaubert arrested and tried for obscenity when his novel appeared. If the film moved along quicker and found a better mix of irony and sadness, it would have been a charming treat. But all the ingredients fail to make a tasty pain au chocolat.
⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: R for language, some sexuality and brief graphic nudity.
Theater: Mall of America.
A heavy-handed missing children drama that treats Australia’s harsh outback like the scene of a sun-baked noir suspense film. Alienation and damaged psyches torture characters almost from the first shot as pharmacist Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Catherine (Nicole Kidman), keep their new small-town neighbors at arm’s length. Matthew is all-controlling. When their teen daughter and younger son leave the house, he orders: “Don’t let her out of your sight.” They slip out again later, vanishing quicker than you can say “A dingo ate my baby!” The couple, whose relationship was already a hothouse, douse the marital flames with gasoline as they try to solve the children’s disappearance.
Hugo Weaving co-stars as Detective Rae, an investigator on a closer amorous wavelength with Catherine than her husband is, making the pair further unhinged. As they face blinding sandstorms and improper strangers, Kidman’s character experiences mysterious memory lapses, seductive acts and a naked walkabout along the town’s main street. Kidman is an actress to reckon with, but this jamboree of unresolved subtexts is less a mystery than a long-winded guessing game.
Love at First Fight
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: Not rated.
Theater: Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul
Madeleine is a unique heroine of romantic comedy: She’s a surly survivalist who wouldn’t know how to flirt if her life depended on it. In preparation for the impending implosion of the planet, she matter of factly drinks raw fish mashed up in a blender, just like in the Bass-O-Matic skit on “Saturday Night Live.” It’s a testament to Adele Haenel, the gifted star of this French hit, that we are interested in this curt college dropout, who shows contempt for the world and everyone who inhabits it. Her unlikely foil is the unfocused Arnaud, whom we first meet at a funeral home. Soon, Arnaud meets up with Madeleine in a defense training exercise, and the “fight” leaves Arnaud embarrassed, humiliated — and intrigued. Their paths cross again after Arnaud unwittingly takes a construction job at Madeleine’s house.
When director Thomas Cailley is playing up the dynamic interaction between the reserved, unassuming Arnaud and the gruff Madeleine the film hums along. Cailley gets a little lost in the woods during the third act, as if he’s a bit unsure exactly where to take these characters. But all in all, this film is refreshingly original, an existential, boy-meets-survivalist romantic comedy. Very French.
David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for some disturbing violent content and terror.
The bar for modern horror has been set so low that by now any movie better than terrible seems worthy of praise. Such is the case of “The Gallows,” a movie that has two good ideas. It needed three. Its two good ideas have to do with its location and its method of filming. Most of it takes place in a high school at night, where, in true horror movie fashion, an escalating series of really bad things happen to some really young people. And the footage that we see is what the hapless students supposedly recorded themselves, Thus, everything that we see looks raw — like “The Blair Witch Project.” Or in this case, “The Blair Drama Class Project.”
In a pre-credits sequence, set in 1993, we are shown the performance of a school play, as recorded on a clunky VHS-based movie camera. The play within the movie is also called “The Gallows,” and all is going well, until the climactic scene, when a platform accidentally gives way at precisely the wrong moment. It’s the wrong moment because the kid standing on it happens to have a noose around his neck. Uh-oh. Flash forward some 20 years later. For some reason, this same school is presenting a new production of “The Gallows.” The day before the show is about to premiere, three students sneak in to vandalize the set. They are surprised by a fourth student, and soon they’re all locked in and can’t get out.
About midway into this relatively short film, the gimmick of telling the story through amateur footage begins to grow stale. As a strategy for inducing fear, it starts to wear off, and its benefits become outweighed by its frustrations, a big one being that the action becomes very hard to follow. Right around the same time, the movie’s other good idea — filming everything in one location — starts to wear thin, as well. A certain sameness to the scenes kicks in, so that, even though the movie is only 80 minutes long, it wears out its welcome.
D.L., San Francisco Chronicle