For generations, Gustave Flaubert's 19th-century novel has stood as a standard for measuring the moral dissembling of bourgeois society and the desperation of women trapped therein. Now Flaubert's punctilious tale, last seen onscreen in 1949 in a deadening Vincente Minnelli version starring Jennifer Jones, has been resurrected by the estimable French director Claude Chabrol and his favorite actress, Isabelle Huppert (Violette, Story of Women).
The problem, post—Freud, Betty Friedan and Danielle Steele, is that Emma Bovary's yearnings for love and liberation seem as dated as her husband's unsterilized surgery. Emma marries this fellow, the town doctor, only because he is the first eligible male to appear at her father's farm. Then she discovers he's boring and a fool into the bargain.
Her romantic dreams unfulfilled, she jumps into bed with two unsuitable swains and shops till her credit drops. Well, you could throw a dragnet over Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills any day of the week and come up with twoscore women in the same fix. Moreover, Chabrol's rendering of the tale is so dry and literal that Emma, for all of Huppert's gameness, emerges as little more than a vin ordinaire housewife with a wayward libido. (PG)