Review

Fabrice Luchini is the best thing about stale 'Gemma Bovery'

In 'Gemma Bovery,' Fabrice Luchini's expert timing is wasted on one-dimensional characters

As a bored baker with an overactive imagination, the wonderful French actor Fabrice Luchini is the only reason to see "Gemma Bovery," a mildly amusing riff on Flaubert. His character's baguettes, brioches and croissants have far more substance than this Gallic piffle's day-old satire.

Fans of "Madame Bovary" might enjoy the chance to nod knowingly at references to the novel, but that's not enough to sustain a feature — especially when director Anne Fontaine ("Coco Before Chanel") and her co-writer, Pascal Bonitzer, update its themes of provincial ennui and marital infidelity in such desultory fashion.

Gemma Arterton is called upon to be voluptuous and little else in the title role. Gemma Bovery is an expat Brit, embarking on the romance of French country living with her husband (Jason Flemyng, wasted). Neighbor Martin Joubert (Luchini), reluctantly returned to his native Normandy after a career in publishing, latches on to the couple's name as more than mere coincidence. Watching Gemma like a gossip-starved — and infatuated — hawk, he's alarmed to discover that she has a lot in common with her literary forebear.

Martin's fascination with Gemma recalls Luchini's role in François Ozon's "In the House," which also explored the line between fiction and real life. Where that comic drama was taut and charged, this one relies on cutesy "conversations" between Martin and his pooch.

Nothing against the dog, but Luchini's ace timing has its limitations when Martin is surrounded by one-dimensional figures. Even if that's the point — that everyone is a blank screen for his projections — in Fontaine's hands this story's dough never rises.

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"Gemma Bovery"

MPAA rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language.

In English and French with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Playing: Landmark, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.

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