In Poetics, Aristotle defined art as mimesis, imitation of nature and life. It was Oscar Wilde who first said that it was life that imitated life far more than art imitated life in his essay in dialogue form, “The Decay of Lying,” written in 1889, modifying Aristotelian conception of the relationship between art and life/reality. And in our age of media and popular culture (which can be now considered ‘art’) saturation, we realize how correct and perceptive Wilde was in his understanding of the relationship between life/nature and ‘art.’ (By the way, Jean Baudrillard pointed out this postmodern phenomenon in his essay “The Precession of Simulacra”.) As unpleasant as such an idea may strike us it is an undeniable fact of life that people nowadays seem to imitate ‘art’ more and not the other way round. And this phenomenon was dramatized in Anne Fontaine’s recent film Gemma Bovary, a postmodern take on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, which I saw with my husband yesterday in the local (if I can call that since we drove 30 minutes to get there) non-profit movie theater.
Martin Joubert is a bibliophile baker who finds his life in Normandy boring, somewhat akin to Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, the heroine of Madame Bovary. Martin is a modern parody of Flaubert who famously said that Madame Bovary was him, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” When he comes to know that his new neighbor couple’s names are Charles and Gemma Bovary, his imagination is excited to a maximum level. He becomes a voyeur (as Flaubert might have been, like many writers). The young sensual wife Gemma Bovary arrests Martin’s imagination, comparing ‘real’ Gemma with fictional Emma, hoping that Gemma might avoid the tragic end suffered by Flaubert’s Emma. At one point, Martin almost becomes a film script writer/ director while watching a chance encounter between Gemma and a local big shot’s son in the market. Since the film is a parodic commentary on Flaubert’s celebrated novel, the tone of the film is comic throughout the film narrative. The film was quite fun and enjoyable. However, a tragic scene which was nonetheless made comic made me feel a little guilty for laughing (a black humor).