I Am Not Madame Bovary
I Am Not Madame Bovary is a visually stunning satire of bureaucracy and social issues in contemporary China. The film has some truly breathtaking cinematography and it provides an interesting and thought-provoking insight into a world that many of us in the West won’t know very much about; however, the long run time and dialogue-heavy scenes make it difficult to fully appreciate the story.
The movie follows a scorned woman’s ten-year fight for justice. Prior to the start of the film, Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing) and her husband Quin Yhe (Li Zonghan) staged a fake divorce so they could get a second apartment, something that the government has reserved for single people. However, the sham divorce becomes real when Quin goes back on his promise to remarry Li, marries someone else instead, and calls his ex-wife a “Pan Jinilian” (an adulterer). This tale follows Li’s decade-long struggle for recognition, retribution and justice and sees her thwarted at every turn by inefficient, bureaucratic men.
Director Feng Xiaogang gives us a critical insight into modern-day China; the work brings to light how a system that requires couples to get divorced if they want a second home or a second child must be broken, and also highlights the way women are treated and judged (Li is referred to as a Pan Jinilian because she was not a virgin on her wedding night). Li is the sole female character, and this helps push the idea of a smart but unlucky peasant woman trying to win in an overwhelmingly male world.
Luo Panwon won Best Cinematographer for the movie during the 2017 11th Asian Film Awards, and it’s not hard to see why. The circular frame that provides the viewer with a “peep show”-style insight into the story is clever and reflects both old Chinese paintings (such as those we see at the beginning) and also an intimate, telescopic view into rural life. The frame changes between a circular and rectangular shape throughout, and then at the end it opens up as we discover the “full picture”. The colour themes, the rural shots, the angles, and the music all help turn this picture into a real work of visual art
Though I Am Not Madame Bovary is definitely intriguing, unfortunately the two-hour-20-minute run time makes it drag. The dialogue is clever but the word-heavy scenes have relatively little action and this makes it hard to stay interested for such a long period of time. It can also be difficult to figure out what’s going on when the (white) subtitles keep fading into the background, thus making it very hard to read. The film does draw its audience in, but they will have to fight to stay focused long enough to appreciate it.
I Am Not Madame Bovary is released in selected cinemas on 26th May 2017.
Watch the trailer for I Am Not Madame Bovary here: