Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002)

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002)When the 2 city boys - Ma and Luo - are sent to the remote mountainous village during the Cultural Revolution to be 're-educated' and to rid of themselves their bourgeois backgrounds, they end up educate and indeed impart the ignorant villagers their bourgeois ways. Sweet poetic justice to the insane movement, one might say.

What's more bourgeois than Mozart's music and French literature by Honoré de Balzac? Bear in mind that the word 'bourgeois' comes from French, and Balzac and Karl Marx were in fact contemporary to each other.

Ma brings the bourgeois music of Mozart to the village under the guise of Chinese music. Luo's reactionary background stems from the fact that his father had once fitted a false tooth for Chiang Kai-shek, but later he did dental filling for the Chief using the banned book of Western medicine. The Tailor make French fashion inspired by the French novels. Most importantly, the Little Seamstress has completely turned French.

This film also tackles something similar to Zhang Yimou's Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005) in the 2 pairs of distinct, but closely related issues of collectivism vs individualism, countryside vs city except that the conclusions are opposite. This isn't surprising given that the period where these 2 films are set against. This film concludes with individualism and city triumphant because the story set in a time of cultural desert (early 1970s), while in Zhang's film collectivism and countryside wins out because the story set in a period (2005) of breathtaking change.

This film is directed by Dai Sijie (戴思杰), who also directed The Chinese Botanist's Daughters (2006). This movie is based on his novel, which in turns is based on his own experience in the reeducation in rural Sichuan. Like the hero in the novel/movie, Dai left China to study in France.

Undoubtedly this seamstress business and title role grew out of his own experience. His father owned a tailor shop, and he became a tailor himself. And the tag-line in the movie poster reads, "A tailor-made love story". How very true on more levels than one!


This movie, and other of his movies and novels are well received in France as they draw very much on French and Chinese culture. It make good cultural bridge movies.