For Reel

Madame Bovary (1949)
February 17, 2016, 12:09 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Vincente Minnelli
3.5 Stars
Madame BovaryGustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary has been celebrated for the certain detachment with which it approaches the eponymous Emma Bovary. The effect of Flaubert’s style is fairly distancing and obscure–audiences read Emma’s fall from grace as an outsider, not entirely aligned with her decision-making because no attempt at that particular kind of identification is attempted. Vincente Minnelli, an enormously sensitive romantic, thus adapted the material as a means of probing deeper into Emma’s passion and shattered dreams. As Robin Wood articulates, “Flaubertian assumption of clinical objectivity gives way to an all-pervasive, precariously controlled hysteria.” The film’s central setpiece is its most rightly celebrated achievement–the finest and most daring of Minnelli’s parties, a “neurotic waltz” (the director’s words) in which Emma (Jennifer Jones) actualizes her ideal self-image before spinning in an out of control frenzy, the world whirling around her as drinking goblets are smashed and windows shattered. It plays as a romantic nightmare–when Minnelli utilizes a first-person point-of-view, the effect is disorienting, balancing precariously between pleasure and horror. What makes the scene even more memorable is Van Heflin’s Charles (much more sympathetic in the filmed version than in the novel), who drunkenly chases after his wife and calls desperately as she twirls around him on the dance floor. The framing device that follows Flaubert’s obscenity trial reeks of hypocrisy and doesn’t work dramatically, and the film is overlong by about twenty minutes (typical of MGM), but the ballroom sequence is sublime enough to make up for the shortcomings.

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