|Poster for I am not Madame Bovary|
It occurs to me that what I know or think I know about modern China comes mainly from watching the films of Xiaogang Feng - If You Are the One, Aftershock, the first Chinese IMAX movie or Personal Tailor. He’s had his feet off the pedals lately but Madame Bovary is a serious effort. Pity about the dumb title - Emma Bovary’s predicament is totally different from that of Bing-bing Fan in the new movie, for which they struggled to find a cultural equivalent.
The normally glamorous Fan, who has been in English language multiplex movies, is a wife involved in a One Child Family apartment scam divorce, which left her without a child or a husband. Seeking redress she goes to a distant relative in the legal bureaucracy, with a gift of meat she has personally cured, and works her way up the chain of local officials (“Who cares what a peasant woman wants?”) till she decides that people in Beijing are smarter and gets the ear of a Chairman at a Party Conference.
Diligent movie viewers are saying it’s the plot of Zhang Yimou’s 1992 Qiu Ju da guan si and that’s part of the point. That film’s message was that village whistle blowers just don’t get the big picture (compare other socialist country pieces like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Amator/Camera Buff). Here we start hearing about looking outwards not upwards and the spread of the Internet. It’s a film about listening to the people uncannily anticipating Brexit and the Trump era. Its argument is complicated but not difficult. Fan is barking but a real society should be able to accommodate crazy people. Even if you reject it, it’s something to be considered.
On top of that, the film making is remarkable. Feng shoots most of the action through a round matte, making for unfamiliar compositions and providing striking moments as in going though a tunnel or when the camera moves sidewise, uncharacteristically following her lover-rapist who keeps on coming back into frame further undressed. Then there is the transition to a vertical format when the action arrives in the capital, along with an ultra wide screen coda. The visuals are continually strikingly beautiful. They need to be viewed on a big screen.
What we are seeing at two hours plus may be the uncensored version. The piece has had a rough passage on it’s home turf. You may not get another crack at this one. (* See comment from Peter Hourigan below).
Also new and Asian is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin/Creepy in the
Japanese Film week - pity about the prices. Creepy is not as good a film as Kurosawa’s 2015 Kishibe no tabi/Journey to the Shore but it’s certainly a remarkable piece of film making as suburban household objects take on unexplained menace until the body count starts mounting.
Peter Hourigan writes in relation to the Xiaogang Feng film's running time: Some comments on running time. IMDB and Cinema Nova have a running time of 128 minutes. But at the session I attended today it was clear this running time was causing scheduling problems. Over half the ads and trailers were dropped and the film ended with about a two minute gap before the next session. I'd say the actual running time was closer to 135-8 minutes. The Roger Ebert site review referred to a time of almost two and a half hours. So we may indeed have a longer film than the official Chinese release.