According to Isabelle Huppert, who takes the title role in this admirable bash at Flaubert's classic, Madame Bovary "is the product of the society that surrounds her - constraining and misogynistic. She is a feminist without knowing it."
Although the first part of that statement may be true, however, claiming Emma Bovary as a proto-feminist is an outlandish piece of revisionism which Chabrol's meticulous adaptation entirely fails to support. Using chunks of Flaubert's original dialogue, this paints a harsh picture of a stifling culture in which women's aspirations are severely limited. Rebelling against this is Emma, a vibrant youth whose frustrated ambitions turn her into a monstrous harpy, ripe for cosmic punishment.
Plucked from the obscurity of her country home by respectable widower Dr. Charles Bovary, Emma anticipates a glamorous life packed with lusty fulfilment, but when Charles turns out to be as exciting as a water biscuit, adultery, intrigue and cynical social climbing come to dominate her life - and Huppert is an endearingly frustrated lead, her progression from girlish anticipation to bitter disillusionment being entirely convincing.
Far from toning down the nastiness of Flaubert's text, Chabrol regularly breaks his film's genteel surface with distressing eruptions: pus-filled wounds, limbs lopped off willy-nilly, Emma herself spewing demonic blue gunk in a dramatic realisation of the foul interior lurking beneath society's elegant facade. Handsomely mounted Euro-art with an fascinatingly repugnant heart.