MOVIE REVIEW: I am not Madam Bovary

Chinese drama.  A woman is seeking legal help when she claims that the divorce she got is fake.  The problem is that the divorce is legal, it was the intention to get the divorce that was fake, to improve their situation.  As soon as the divorce was granted though the husband married someone else.  Now Lian is trying to make the officials and courts see that the divorce was just a ruse to get a better apartment, but they don’t want to get involved, and so this sets Lian off on a long road to prove that everyone is corrupt and how the public officials don’t actually care about the public.

This film will throw you off-balance from the very start.  It’s well acted and funny in places that you’ll feel you shouldn’t be laughing.  I don’t know if that is intentional or not, but it’s funny, darkly funny.

At the start of the film though you get thrown off your comfort zone, mine is atop a bag of popcorn, as the film maker has made the choice to use just one-third of the screen, and show everything through a circle.  This is really distracting for about the first 10 minutes of the film.  But then something strange happens about 10 minutes in.  The choice of the circle makes sense, it zones your attention in to the pin point of Lian and her claim.  You don’t get caught up in the background actions and the beautiful Chinese countryside.  It’s all about the story.

Don’t get me wrong though when it comes to the picture postcard of the scenery there are many moments that just fill you with joy to see.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford to visit China as those checks from Comic Crusaders bounce more than Donald Trump’s stomach on the golf course that he’s spending time on.  So it’s great to see that.

Lian is a great character and relentless in her pursuit to get remarried to her ex, mostly because she wants to divorce him for being a low life.  When her case reaches the heights of the Communist Party Chairman then everyone who has been ignoring her gets fired.  Ten years pass and she has decided to stop pursuing the case, although the present officials don’t believe her, and do all they can to make her leave things where they are.  It’s a complicated story and the odd choice of framing the scenes, which changes from the circle in the countryside to a box in the Capital just makes you feel more uncomfortable than you should.

Being uncomfortable in a cinema is by far the least problem, in fact it’s a good thing, what my biggest problem with this film is that I understand what the film maker is trying to get through to us and yet there is a lack of a punch.  It takes too long to get to the point with art shots that go nowhere in what could have been a master class of Chinese cinema.

I can’t tell you that going to this film is not worth your time and cinema cash, it’s still better than a lot of films that are coming out which far superior budgets, all that I can say is that I wouldn’t be too pushed about seeing this again.  I wanted the script to be sharper and they were so close to doing that, it was frustrating, that would have made this a not to be missed film, rather than just a run of the mill comedy drama.

Director: Xiaogang Feng
Writer: Zhenyun Liu
Stars: Chengpeng Dong, Bingbing Fan, Wei Fan

See full cast & crew

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