“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress:” the movie

Just watched the movie, and it isn’t bad.  It isn’t the book I remember, but it was an official selection at the Cannes Film fest, won the National Board of Review in 2004, and was nominated for 1/2 dozen or so other awards , including  a the Best Foriegn Movie Golden Globe.    See my brief thoughts and resources on the book here, and check out IMBD on the film here.

Much of the pain and humor are missing from the film, such as how the ox that tormented 4-eyes was pushed off a cliff (because face (?) or appearances had to be saved.  Slaughtering the beast for a celebration would have been counter-revolutionary).   The horror of the mine as well is glossed.  The sex is more…. titillating  and a bit less earthy, but sufficiently PG for college students.

I’m coming to grips with the end.  The tying together the plight of the damned river to the plot bothers me but I might come around.  I had different expectations from the book.  The theme of freedom comes through well in the movie, but the pain, fear and oppression as well as an authentic feel of the cultural revolution seem bowdlerized.   I also feel the setting was moved north, away from where I backpacked back in Jan 2000.   That might bias me.

It does show the liberating, and mind or world expanding power of literature though.   In addition to the idea of freedom, education – its role and its dangers to power gets fascinating treatment.  I’m interested in what students might think.

I’m struck upon reflecting on the movie, how much it compares to Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

  • in both an ancestoral home is destined for destruction by flood to make way for the future – a  hydroelectric power plant.
  • with the exception of one or two of the main protagonists, the backdrop is hillbillies.  Think of the Chinese peasants of the south as hillbillies, and their ignorance is similar to what Americans think of with Appalachia mountain people, as well as the arrogance or assumptions of city people from the north.
  • freedom is at the heart of both movies, as well as redemption.  In Balzac, the revolution sends  Lu and Ma to the hillbillies to be re-educated and purged of their capitalist or counter-revolutionary ways.
  • Both involve fiddles.
  • a Cow or ox plays a pivotal role in both.