I Am Not Madame Bovary – Film Review by Louise O’Meara
Written by: Liu Zhenyun
Directed by: Feng Xiaogang
Cast: Fan Bingbing, Zhang Jiayi, Yu Hewei, Dong Chengpeng
This Chinese satirical film, based on the book of the same name, opens with the controversial Chinese fable of a promiscuous woman, Pan Jinlian, who betrays and murders her husband in order to marry her lover. It is purportedly the highest form of insult to throw at a Chinese woman. And this is where the film begins. The accusation has been posed and the heroine of the piece, Li Xuelian, sets out to refute it.
Li Xuelian and her husband Qin Yuhe agree to stage a fake divorce in order to get a second apartment in the city, as the government give out free apartments to single people, however, the arrangement doesn’t go exactly to plan as Qin Yuhe marries another woman six months later.
Fuelled by fiery indignation, Xuelian files a lawsuit with the county court but loses. Our protagonist doesn’t stop there and she takes the case onward, appealing to the chief justice, the county chief and even the mayor. All of her pleas are denied and she is becoming quite the nuisance to the men of the local government but as her former husband accuses her of being a Pan Jinlian, because she was not a virgin on their wedding night, Li Xuelian feels she must seek justification.
At every turn politicians refuse to listen to her until she is forced to pull aside a government official in Beijing who is on route to lead an annual government assembly. The official is incensed and shames the cabinet. But, alas, Li Xuelian, still does not win her case and she continues to bring it to the assembly in Beijing for a subsequent ten years.
Although the film poses as a satire on the Chinese political structure, it sometimes loses sight of its objective and gets carried away with the ridiculousness of Li Xuelian’s outrage. The frame continuously flips from circular to wide screen to landscape and back for no identifiable reason that furthers the story. Li Xuelian tirelessly fights her case for nearly two and a half hours which is a little too long for such repetitive action. I’m also not entirely sure of the title; something may have got a little lost in translation. Her story does not have any real similarities to Gustave Flaubert’s nineteenth century novel, other than the lead character is a non conforming female and the film never refers back to the title. Overall, what could be a serious political satire is actually a farcical comedy that is fairly enjoyable but could do with a bit of editing.