Sophie Barthes: “Madame Bovary era bipolar”

Madame Bovary, the famous novel by Gustave Flaubert, has returned to the big screen again with the help of Sophie barthes. The French-American filmmaker, author of Cold Souls (2009), addresses in his second feature film the tragic story that the French writer immortalized in 1856 and that hits Spanish theaters this Friday, almost two years after its premiere. “I read the novel for the first time when I was fifteen and throughout my life I will have read it about seven or eight. It is a story that fascinates me ”, says the director to The vanguard. Barthes says he had no plans to direct a film about the famous play, but received a first version of the script through his agency and one thing led to another.

In total, it took three years to give birth to a proposal that has nothing to do with the previous versions created by Jean Renoir (1933), Vincente Minnelli (1949) or Claude Chabrol (1991). Barthes had only seen the latter’s film starring Isabelle Huppert, but she didn’t want to review the others because she didn’t want to be influenced. What was clear to him was the choice of Mia Wasikowska as his Madame Bovary. “Emma is very enigmatic and Mia is too,” he says.

The truth is that the Australian actress nails her character and shows more than evident samples of her talent in period roles (Jane Eyre, The scarlet summit). The passion with which Barthes speaks of the novel reveals how deeply he has studied Flaubert and his protagonist. “You never know exactly what she feels or thinks about Emma. The more you read the novel and at different ages, the more you realize that there are things you didn’t know about it before. It is like a Russian doll (Matryoshka) with different deep and complex layers ”, explains the director. “The truth is that you often don’t understand her decisions, and neither does she,” he continues.

Barthes recalls that the French writer created Emma based on a true story that appeared in a newspaper. It was the case of a woman who committed suicide shortly after marrying a doctor. “It’s the kind of stories that are part of human nature,” he says. The director believes that at present the protagonist probably would have divorced, but she would have had the same problem because she is at her base, in a fragile personality. “She is always projecting her dreams instead of living life, that is why she is always disappointed, because when you live in a projection you put reality aside,” she continues. “After reading and studying Flaubert for so long, I think he was bipolar. And Emma was too, ”she says emphatically.

Flaubert lived with his mother until she died. He had an agitated relationship with the poet Louise Colet that lasted ten years and from which an interesting correspondence resulted. Barthes believes that Colet inspired him to shape Emma, ​​while also putting a lot of himself into the character. “Emma is Flaubert’s alter ego. You realize when you read his letters; he loved luxury, travel and was also incapable of love, like her. There are many similar aspects between the two, especially with regard to psychological problems ”, adds the director.

The Bovary marriage in a frame of the film

Aleph Motion Pictures

The film begins with the suicide of the young woman in a forest full of dry leaves and immediately afterwards the camera makes a flash-back to explain how her misery began to develop.

Please God, may he be the right man! With this resounding phrase, Emma looks forward to her departure from boarding school, where she has been dreaming of her prince charming for years. Your wedding is imminent. The groom goes by the name of Charles Bovary, a country doctor of few words. A few guests attend the link, including the young woman’s father, a farmer who sent his daughter to the nuns when she became widowed because he knew how to take care of pigs but not a little girl.

Emma soon realizes that married life is not the rose tale she read in novels. The husband is not around much for the work of spending time with her; Sex between the couple is not a pleasure to turn to either, and the young woman spends her days with the only company of a piano and Henriette, the maid who will become a confidant of her unfortunate existence.

Emma is the first literary character to become a voluntary victim of consumerism “

Sophie barthesFilmmaker

Silence begins to flood every room in the house and the character played by Wasikowska tries to fill her vital void by indulging in extra marital relationships and buying luxurious fabrics and wonderful dresses provided by l’Hereux, an astute merchant. “Emma is the first literary character to become a voluntary victim of consumerism,” says Barthes. And it is that Flaubert already predicted the dangers of capitalism through that unscrupulous man embodied by Rhys Ifans and to whom Barthes has wanted to give more presence in his film. A situation that the filmmaker herself was able to see when she landed in New York 15 years ago to study at Columbia University. “I received eight credit cards from different banks,” he remembers with a laugh. “Capitalism does not forgive; If you don’t pay your debts, it’s over, ”he says bluntly.


Ezra Miller as Leon Dupuis, one of Emma’s lovers

Aleph Motion Pictures

The film was shot in 37 days in different locations in southern Normandy, where the novel is set. Recreating the atmosphere of the 19th century in France in the most authentic way possible has been the particular tribute that the director pays to Flaubert. “I wanted to translate into images the way in which the writer captured nature with his prose,” he says. And much of the result is due to the exquisite photography of Andrij Parekh, Sophie’s partner.

After the drama that permeates the history of Madame Bovary, Barthes now has several projects on the table: the adaptation of The Custom of the Country ( The customs of the country ) by Edith Wharton, and a story about the first African explorer to reach Greenland.

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Sophie Barthes: “Madame Bovary era bipolar”