Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Xun Zhou as the Little Seamstress
Photo: Empire Pictures

Directed by: Dai Sijie.
Produced by: Lise Fayolle.
Written by: Dai Sijie & Nadine Perront, based on the novel by Dai Sijie.
Director of Photography: Jean Marie Dreujou.
Edited by: Fleur Augustin, et al.
Music by: Pujian Wang.
Released by: Empire Pictures.
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: China/France. 111 min. Not Rated.
With: Xun Zhou, Kun Chen & Ye Liu.

During China's Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, two best friends, both sons of bourgeois intellectuals, are sent to a mountain village for Maoist re-education. Though reduced to a harsh life of farming and mining, the rebellious Luo (Kun Chen) and diffident Ma (Ye Liu) keep their spirits alive by playing small tricks. When the village chief threatens to take Ma's violin away, Luo claims that a Mozart sonata is actually entitled, "Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao." The chief remains skeptical of the young men, but because of their literacy he sends them into town to watch communist Albanian and North Korean melodramas so that they can recite them back to the locals. But Luo and Ma replace the dull plots with their own stories.

But Luo and Ma embark on their most significant undertaking when they fall in love with the beautiful daughter of the village tailor. Calling her the “Little Seamstress" (Xun Zhou), they transform the culture-starved teenager. Stealing a suitcase full of banned Western books, they take turns reading translated works by Flaubert, Dumas, Balzac and many others to her. But what Ma and Luo do not realize is that by liberating her from ignorance, they are embedding within her heart a will to seek out other worlds.

What makes this film different is that unlike, for example, Jia Zhangke's The World, in which the knowledge of the outside world means a sense of deprivation for young people, here it frees them - with a price. Adapting from his own best-selling novel, director Dai Sijie is aware that no matter the circumstances a particular vibrancy of youth is never lost, and his three leading actors excel at delivering this message. The score and Jean Marie Dreujou's cinematography also complete this atypical valentine to an era and place. Romanticized, but never melodramatic, at the heart of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is an enduring and universal sentiment. Marie Iida
July 29, 2005



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