Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Two young men at one of Mao Tse-tung’s “re-education camps” in 1971 make friends with a teenage seamstress in a neighboring village and take turns reading to her from forbidden “bourgeois” books by writers like Honoré de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert (translated into Mandarin, of course). Director Sijie Dai’s film (adapting his own novel with Nadine Perront) is as whimsical as its English title, a sort of Jules and Jim for the Great Leap Forward. Dai’s dramatic construction is disjointed and arbitrary, his dialogue (at least in the English subtitles) is often banal, and the thought of a warmly nostalgic look at the Cultural Revolution is, shall we say, a trifle unsettling. And yet, the movie has a charm that is hard to dismiss, thanks to the simple beauty of the three main characters, especially Xun Zhou as the seamstress.