Madame Bovary (1991)





Director:  Claude Chabrol.

Starring:  Isabelle Huppert (Emma Bovary), Jean-Franšois Balmer (Charles Bovary), Christophe Malavoy (Rodolphe Boulanger), Jean Yanne (M. Homais), Lucas Belvaux (Leon Dupuis), Christiane Minazzoli (Widow Lefancois), Jean-Louis Maury (Merchant Lheureux), Florent Gibassier (Hippolyte), Jean-Claude Bouillaud (Monsieur Rouault), Sabeline Campo (Felicite), Yves Verhoeven (Justin), Marie Mergey (Charles Bovary's Mother), Franšois Maistre (Lieuvain),

Thomas Chabrol (Vicomte), Phillippe Abitol.


the then scandalous portrait of a bored middle-class married woman indulging in adulterous affairs


Good movie.  Let's not be too harsh on Madame Bovary.  She probably suffered from bipolar disorder (manic-depression) with mood swings between great depression to destructive heights of out-of-control mania and back to depression.  To help get her out of her depression she became addicted to spending money, a relatively common deadly self-remedy. 

Now that we have been fair, let's be unfair.  She was a real bitch who cheated on her husband at least three times with two different men, saddled her worried husband with dealing with her periods of depression, mistreated her husband and daughter, and spent the family's money so wildly and foolishly that she ultimately ruined her husband, daughter and herself.  

In her favor we can say that her husband was a fool, refusing to see or acknowledge that his wife was in deep trouble.   It just seems incredible that a man who loved his wife so, could be so blind to her emotions.  It is also unbelievable that the people of the small town Yonville did not notice Madame Bovary's blatant immoral behavior.  In the real world, they would have boiled her alive fueled by the energy from their wicked gossip.  Even the husband's close friend, the pharmacist, did not notice anything odd about Madame Bovary's behavior. 

All the men in the movie were louses or fools.  Madame Bovary's husband and his friend were blind fools.  The handsome but unethical Mr. Boulanger is a con-man and predator of women who preys on the doctor's wife.  Her second lover, Leon, engages in an affair with a married woman with no thought of the consequences for all involved.  The local retailer totally manipulates her by driving her debt up to the cost of two entire houses and then ruining her by demanding immediate payment.  The local notary offers to help her, but only in return for her sexual favors.  Was there anyone noble in the film?  This is a good illustration of novelist Flaubert's criticism of the world of the bourgeois middle class, which he detested.  (One would have thought that a criticism of the middle class would have included a criticism of the righteously indignant moralism of the class, but in Flaubert's world, nobody noticed Madame Bovary's strange behavior, except for those who wanted to take advantage of or ruin her.)

I am not a person much interested in clothes, but the character of Madame Bovary has quite a few beautiful dresses.  (This alone would have started the tongues of the gossips flapping.)

The movie was good because it kept me shouting out sarcastic remarks at the screen in response to the unethical or foolish behavior and talk of almost all involved in this tragedy. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1814-1824  --   reign of Louis XVIII (1755-1824), King of France and Navarre (with a brief break in 1815 for Napoleon's return in the Hundred Days to his defeat at Waterloo). 

1821  --  birth of future realist novelist Gustave Flaubert in Rouen, France.  His father was a surgeon and his mother was a daughter of a doctor. 

The story of Madame Bovary begins in October, 1827 and ends in August, 1846.

1824-1830  --  reign of Charles X, King of France and Navarre,  (1757-1836).  He was the grandson of Louis XV and  the youngest son of Louis, dauphin de France (who never reigned.  He resigned during the French Revolution of 1830 because he did not want to become a constitutional monarch. 

1830-1848  -- the reign of Louis-Philippe of France (1773-1850), known as the "July Monarchy."  He was the son of Louis Philippe Joseph, the duc d'OrlÚans and a descendant of King Louis XIII.   This was the period that saw the great increase in size of the bourgeois middle class.

Flaubert detested the bourgeois middle class and wrote very critically of it. 

1840  -- Flaubert left Rouen for Paris and the study of the law. 

1846  --  Flaubert he left Paris and abandoned the study of the law.  He lived in Croisset, close to Rouen, with his mother.  It proved to be his home for the rest of his life. 

1846  --  Flaubert, with his friend Maxime du Camp, traveled in Brittany.

1846-1854  --  Flaubert had an affair with the poet Louise Colet.  He never married.   

1848-1852  -- the Second French Republic. 

1849  --   Flaubert and Maxime du Camp traveled to Greece and Egypt. 

1850  -- after returning from Egypt, Flaubert started writing Madame Bovary

1850s and 1860s  --  Flaubert had a close friendship with the female write George Sand.  He had a few acquaintance in Paris:  Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Turgenev and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. 

1852-1870  --  Second French Empire (the imperial Bonapartist  regime of Napoleon III that included the conquest of Mexico).  

1856  --  serialized in the Revue de Paris.  The government tried Flaubert for immorality, but he was acquitted. 

1858  --  Flaubert traveled to Carthage to gather material for his novel, Salammb˘.

1862  --  Flaubert completed his novel Salammb˘.

1869  --  after seven years of work, Flaubert finished his novel L'╔ducation sentimentale drawing from his childhood experiences.

1870  --  during the War of 1870, Prussian soldiers occupied his house. 

1872  -- death of Flaubert's mother. 

1877 --  Flaubert published Trois contes (Three Tales). 

1880  -- at age 58, Flaubert died of a stroke.

1881  -- posthumous publication of Flaubert's Bouvard et PÚcuchet.


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