Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress

"OK"

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress Review


One has to wonder what gave Sijie Dai the impression that his screenplay for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress -- an adaptation of his own best-selling novel and co-scripted by Nadine Perront -- was structurally sound. About three-quarters of the way into his story, and in one of the more baffling and ineffectual transitions to be found in recent movie memory, Dai jerks his narrative forward by two decades literally in the blink of an eye. The sudden shift only makes Balzac's weaknesses in the character department that much more glaring. As we watch his characters, aged now by makeup, and reminiscing about their teenage years after a long separation, we become aware of how superficial our understanding of them actually is. That awareness robs his flash-forward technique of any poignancy it might otherwise have had and points perhaps to his lack of fluency with the film form.

Set amid lush mountains in an isolated region in China in the early 1970s, Dai gives us a gently paced semi-autobiographical account of two teenage boys, Ma (Ye Liu) and Luo (Kun Chen) who arrive at a Maoist camp for "re-education." Because they are the offspring of the "reactionary" elite -- the very class that Mao sought to purge during his Cultural Revolution -- the boys are prescribed a daily regimen of lugging buckets of shit to fertilize the local rice fields alternated with tedious shifts in a copper mine. Through Dai's eyes, though, what ordinarily might be a rather bleak portrayal of suffering is viewed through rose-tinted lenses. The Communist Committee chief of their village (Shuangbao Wang) is, true to fashion, a by-the-book ideologue. He wants to come off as a hardliner, but he's won over easily enough by Ma's claim that the Mozart lieder he plays on his violin is, in fact, a tribute to Mao. This would be fine if it led to a more complex dynamic between the chief and the boys, but this cheeky repartee goes no further.

The world is certainly idyllic, especially after the boys chance upon the daughter of the village tailor -- a girl who goes by the sobriquet the Little Seamstress (Xun Zhou). She is uneducated but pretty, and her simple charms and free-spiritedness immediately attract Ma and Luo. In one of the movie's more stirring moments, the Seamstress gives voice, however fleetingly, to the spirit of adventure we feel most keenly in our youth when she mentions how the sight of an airplane passing overhead while she's working in the fields sparks within her a curiosity of the outside world. After the boys stumble upon a trove of 19th century European novels -- some of them by the titular author and all banned by China's revolutionists -- Luo begins reading them, one by one, to the fascinated Seamstress. It's both a courtship ritual for Luo and the Seamstress as well as a form of escape for these oppressed teenagers. Indeed, more than on any other level, Balzac succeeds as a paean to the power of books in freeing up the human imagination regardless of class, race, sex, or political constrictions.

These admirable sentiments, however, do not compensate for the movie's utter lack of dramatic tension -- sexual, political, or otherwise. Beneath the surface of longing, lusting, and dreaming, Dai imparts little depth to his characters -- at least in their cinematic incarnation. At no point in the boys' Maoist rigmarole do we feel even an undercurrent of existential terror -- that is, a sense that the consequences of violating the village chief's rules would be severe or even threatening. Apart from perfunctory depictions of manual labor, the boys share in what feels like an "extreme" summer camp adventure. Similarly, the romance between Luo and the Seamstress lacks obstacles and complications. When the Seamstress must cope with an unplanned pregnancy in Luo's absence, leaving Ma to come to her aid, Dai means to convey something of Ma's burgeoning love for the girl, but he shies from delving into this terrain. This is not an appeal for obvious and expository dialogue (which runs roughshod throughout Balzac anyway) but, rather, a wish that Dai had the cinematic acumen to use performance and composition more expressively. The viewer aches for the wordless and prolonged glance, the mysterious gesture, and the visual metaphor--that syntax of silence hinting at worlds of yearning surely residing deep within these characters. Dai's approach is, unfortunately, heavily prosaic -- a too-literal dramatization of characters living through an intense phase in their lives in an intense time, pleasing to the eye but not to the heart or the soul.

Aka Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise.

Now can you fix my pants?



Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress

Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 9th October 2002

Box Office USA: $0.3M

Distributed by: Soda Pictures Ltd.

Production compaines: Les Films de la Suane, Le Film

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 14

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as La petite tailleuse chinoise, Chen Kun as Luo, as Dai, Xu Zu as le vieux tailleur

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Advertisement
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick Movie Review

It may be rather long for a romantic comedy, but this film has such a...

The Emoji Movie Movie Review

The Emoji Movie Movie Review

There's no reason why this animated comedy adventure needed to be this pointless. Solidly entertaining...

England Is Mine Movie Review

England Is Mine Movie Review

While this is billed as a film about The Smiths' singer-songwriter Morrissey, it's actually an...

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

It's been 20 years since French filmmaker Luc Besson shook up the sci-fi genre with...

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.