When the film opens, we see a man Charles Bovery (Jason Flemyng) burning stuffs belonging to his wife in his garden, amongst which was his wife's diary which he told his curious next door neighbor Martin Jourbet (Fabrice Luchini) saying that he had not the heart to read it. A telephone sounded and Charles took the call inside his house. Martin took the chance to pick up the diary and surreptiously hid it under his windbreaker and then left as if nothing had happened. In the comfort of his study, he started reading.
The screen then flashed back to the day when a young English couple arrived with their belongings outside Martin's own house. The curiosity of Martin, a man of letters who returned from Paris 7 years previously to re-open his family's bakery in that little suburb of Rouen, Normandy, in which nothing much happened and who simply loved literature, was piqued. He learns that the beautiful English lady's is called Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and her husband by a strange coincidence was called Charles Bovery, almost exactly the same as the names of the two protagonist in Flaubert's novel. From that point, his imagination took flight and he began to spy on Madame Bovary, feeling pangs of jealousy as during Charles' absence of for business in London, she met and then had an affairs with Hervé de Bressigny(Neils Schneider), a law student from Paris, again as in Flaubert's story, the son of the deceased owner of a huge chateau nearby. Feeling an unbearable bout of jealousy, he forged a note by Hervé, exactly like the note Léon wrote to Madame Bovary in Flaubert's novel saying that he did not wish to see her any more. Unfortunately for Martin,that appeared to do nothing to stop what he thought would be the continuation of Madame Bovary's affairs, as he feared it would if real life imitated Flaubert's novel. Not long afterwards, Patrick (Mel Raido), Madame Bovary's former lover from England arrived from to ask Madame Bovery to elope with him, promising to reform himself from his former ways. But according to Madame Bovary's diary, she was determined not to do so and to make up with Charles, with whom her relationship had become strained, she having just telephoned him in UK and Patrick was on his way back for a happy reunion.
As accident would have it, Madame Bovary bought some croissant from Martin earlier in the day but did not take them away after paying, Martin went to her house to give them back to her but when he arrived, he saw Patrick repeatedly trying to push the front of his lower body against the rear of Madame Bovery's, holding her neck with his hands whilst she was gasping for air, her face against the glass panes of the door. Shortly thereafter, Madame Bovary fell on the ground and died. He attended the funeral. As the three men were leaving, we see Hervé throwing a bouquet upon Gemma's grave. Whilst thus walking away, he was told by Charles that according to the doctors, Gemma died not because of arsenic because she choked when she could not dislodge from her throat a lump of wheat bread, which he had earlier deposited upon her doorsteps and which Patrick took into her house! An ironic hint by the director that she died from being choked by the combined product of Martin's inordinate curiosity, his excessive literary imagination and barely restrained jealousy?
As the film ends, Martin's son teenage son Julien (Kacey Mottet Keon) tells him that a new Russian female neighbor has just arrived to take up residence of Bovary's house and that her name starts with K, as in Anna Karenina, same as the heroine in the novel by Leo Tolstoi that he was then reading. Martin immediately goes out and asks if he could help, using exactly those words he used when Madame Bovary first arrived but was surprised how well she spoke French, without the slightest accent when they got talking. It's obvious that Julien, who knew Martin's passion for literature was pulling his leg.
It's a comedy in which Anne Fontaine is making fun of people in rural France who got too much time on their hands and too little ability to restrain their imagination making a fool of themselves. Although there's a death in the film, it got very little or nothing to do with French literature at all. A deliberately "ridiculous" ending to what could have been in Martin's mind, a great romantic tragedy! There's a scene in which Madame Bovary back was bitten by a bee which flew inside the back of her dress and she asked him to unzip her and suck the poison out and he "reluctantly" obliged which is hilarious and another scene in which Martin disappeared into the kitchen then a loud noise was heard and a little later Martin re-emerged with a dead mouse. I like Anne Fontaine's subtle images, as the behavior of Martin's male dog which is always going after Gemma's female puppy and smelling her out.
Fabrice Luchini is simply marvelous as the timorous literature-and love crazed Martin tormented by some very real jealousy but hampered by a complete lack the kind of courage his secret passion for Gemma would take if he were to realize his fantasy and his portray of a countryside boulanger (suggestion of Flaubert's novel again ?) who seems unable or unwilling to learn. The ravishingly sensuous Gemma Arterton is perfectly cast for the role of Madame Bovary, an artist passionate about what and whom she loves. I like also the cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne which bathes the action on the screen in an almost unreal "literary" atmosphere, with its soft lights amidst the beautiful countryside etc coupled with the classical music and title song hummed by a folk song like female voice to the accompaniment of the acoustic guitar, done by Bruno Coulais, which seems to blend in perfectly with the cinematic images.