I Am Not Madame Bovary

Review by Claire Langlais

Directed by

Xiaogang Feng

Starring

Bingbing Fan Chengpeng Dong Wei Fan

Anticipation.

We’re always up for seeing Fan Bingbing taking revenge on men.

Enjoyment.

Sometimes it’s a little slow but the ending is worth the build-up.

In Retrospect.

A comedy that rightly demonstrates the sad truth of China’s bureaucracy and prejudice.

China’s bureaucracy is exposed to great comedic effect in this sharp satire from director Feng Xiaogang.

There exists a fictional Chinese character known as ‘Pan Jinlian’, who was a woman who committed adultery and matricide, and was later killed by her dead husband’s brother. Flaubert’s novel ‘Madame Bovary’ and the concept of Pan Jinlian are strongly linked as they both refer to characters who cheated on their husbands to escape the monotony of their lives. Plus, they both died a tragic death.

This sets the scene for Feng Xiaogang’s I Am Not Madame Bovary, which tells the story of Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing), a woman from a small town in China who sues her ex-husband on the grounds that their divorce was fake. What should be an open and shut case rapidly evolves into a fight against the lawmakers of her county and, eventually, Beijing’s highest officials. Li (also referred to as Lian) takes various steps to get her case heard when she is referred to as a Pan Jinlian by her ex-husband, which is really a literary synonym for slut.

And as word spreads fast, she becomes determined to preserve her reputation. The film is formally very interesting as it uses various aspect ratios and changes from circular frame (a link to many aspects of Chinese culture such as traditional paintings, windows and feminine fans), to (almost) square and Cinemascope. Xiaogang’s choice of mostly using a circular aspect ratio is a bold way to show how a woman’s artificially narrowed environment impacts the steps she takes.

The film is powered by hints of humour and inevitable sorrow, while there are a few overlong passages and one particularly annoying scene that has been ripped directly from Liu Zhenyun’s source novel. Yet Fan and her male co-stars manage to maintain the sense of drama right until the end. The film leaves us to wonder whether Li will finally be understood by those in charge of her own country’s crooked legal system.

Published 26 May 2017

Tags: Chinese Cinema Fan Bingbing

Anticipation.

We’re always up for seeing Fan Bingbing taking revenge on men.

Enjoyment.

Sometimes it’s a little slow but the ending is worth the build-up.

In Retrospect.

A comedy that rightly demonstrates the sad truth of China’s bureaucracy and prejudice.

Read More

The European film festival putting Asian cinema on the map

By Joji Sakurai

The tiny Italian city of Udine once again welcomed the biggest names in the Asian film industry.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

By Adam Woodward

China’s foremost proponent of large-scale pyrotechnics is the star of this engaging documentary from Kevin Macdonald.

review

Hollywood’s lack of Asian-American representation, and how to fix it

By Greg Noone

The hosts of the Asian Oscar Bait podcast discuss the need for greater diversity on screen.

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, LWLies has been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design