An Exclusive Look at the Costumes and Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of 'Madame Bovary'

Director Sophie Barthes shares the scoop.

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)

If you haven't seen (or read) it, Madame Bovary tells the tale of a 19th-century woman who, anachronistically, has multiple affairs with different suitors. Based on the acclaimed Gustave Flaubert novel that redefined the Romantic era, the film stars Mia Wasikowska, Paul Giamatti, and Ezra Miller—and some seriously gorgeous costumes.

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)

Here, director Sophie Barthes gives us an exclusive look at how it all got made.

Marie Claire: What kind of mood did you want to create in the film?

Sophie Barthes: I was aiming for a sensorial recreation and stylization of the mid 19th century in a small village of Normandy. The film is inspired by painters which palette I particularly love: Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, Spanish painter Ramon Casas and also the austere style of photographer Desiree Dolron. The collaboration with Production Designer Benoit Barouh was essential in creating this mood. He is a great aesthete. Together with cinematographer Andrij Parekh they were able to help create and capture the light and atmosphere I was looking for. The idea was to make the film feel mineral.

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)

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(Image credit: A scene from the film)

MC: How significant were the costumes in helping you develop that tone and in developing the characters?

SB: The costumes were essential to develop the tone and characters. Since Madame Bovary self destruction is mainly connected to her spending on dresses, the dresses had to be very special and unforgettable. They are literally popping out of the screen.

The Costume Designers Valerie Ranchoux and Christian Gasc chose an extraordinary array of colors which either contrast or echoes with the tones of the production design and nature. Emma first dresses are different shades of greens (green is the color of hope and youth) and as her character develop stronger colors are introduced (red, orange, and almost poisonous purple) and the end her dress completely blends with the nature in the fall (yellows and greens).

Every dress tells a story about Emma: the orange dress in the hunt scene has an asymmetrical pattern on the chest signaling the beginning of her bipolarity, the purple dress she wears to meet her lover in Rouen feels it has the texture of a poisonous flower, the red dress seems inspired by Baudelaire "Les Fleurs du Mal", there is so much symbolic meaning in every dress. It was incredible for me to have the chance to work with Valerie and Christian and their team.

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)

MC: What did you love most about this project?

SB: I loved all the creative aspect. Shooting in real locations in Normandy, scouting and discovering places which felt frozen in time, collaborating with great talents such as DOP Andrij Parekh, Production Designer Benoit Barouh, Costume Designers Valerie Ranchoux and Christian Gasc. Everyone put so much passion and love to bring this project to life. And of course working with the cast, an incredible group of actors to work with.

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)

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(Image credit: Courtesy Scope Pictures)
Samantha Leal
Senior Editor

Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.