Breath-taking, funny, erotic and altogether bewitching!" - ELLE MAGAZINE "A jewel of a movie!" - WASHINGTON POST "Sweet, funny, sad and profound!"- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE "Exquisite! A love song to great literature."- LO... more »S ANGELES TIMES Based on the best-selling novel set during China?s cultural revolution, this acclaimed film is about two young men, university students, who are sent to a remote mountain village for a Maoist re-education, to purge them of their decadent Western education. Amid the back-breaking work and stifling ignorance of the community, the local beauties are the only respite from their miserable life. But none compare to the granddaughter of the region?s tailor. With a secret cache of forbidden books, they set about to woo her.« less
M. J Leonard | Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/23/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Set against the startling backdrop of China's mountainous regions, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress takes place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where the government was intent on reeducating those intellectuals, artists and political dissenters. Filmmaker Dai Sijie has created a dreamy memory of hardship and adversity - part familiar Chinese parable, part familiar French romance - in which love of the radiantly beautiful, remote Chinese landscape outlasts bitterness at the Mao era's blinkered commitment to intellectual ignorance.
Two teenage friends, Ma and Luo (the attractive Ye Liu and Kun Chen), toil away in a mountain village, children of disgraced intellectuals. As part of their reeducation, they lug human waste up a mountaintop, push rocks in a mine, and occasionally visit a nearby town to watch North Korean films, which they then act out for their less mobile comrades.
Life for them is pretty boring, and they soon tire of the work, but they're smart enough to know that the whole thing is somewhat farcical, but also smart enough to go along with the program. A new world opens up for them when they discover that another young man sent for re-education has a stash of forbidden books - mostly 19th-century European and Russian novels - hidden in his hut.
They also two fall in love with a young girl (Xun Zhou) from a neighboring village and woo her by reading to her from the forbidden books. The young seamstress shows an instant affinity to Balzac in particular, and as Ma reads her the stories from the 19th century, the girl. the most appealing aspect of the movie is the romantic notion that books can change lives. Luo and Ma's interest seems as much the result of intellectual curiosity as it is an appreciation of Balzac's storytelling abilities. They're also impressed that the books deal with more or less ordinary people, unlike the royal personages that dominate classical Chinese literature. For them, this is a revelation.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a big, sweeping and grandly photographed film, but the narrative tends to wander, and oftentimes the movie lacks the dramatic heft to make it really compelling entertainment. Based in the book of the same name, the movie also lacks the subtleness of its source material, with Sijie transforming the book's brief time frame, tweaking countless plot points, and topping it all off with a titanic metaphor not found in his own pages.
The strength of the film is in the quieter scenes when the trio wonder what life is like outside. There's the thrill at the breathy inspiration found in their contraband Balzac and a moment of wonder when the Seamstress talks about seeing airplanes pass overhead and wonders "what the world is like elsewhere." Mike Leonard February 06. "
Abolutely Authentic Film Version of the Novel
Gerard D. Launay | Berkeley, California | 01/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The author of the novel is an intellectual who was forced to live in a labor camp from 1971- 1974...the end of the Cultural Revolution. He is also a filmmaker and therefore he filmed his own novel. This combination is rare... so we witness an outstanding visualization of his book. It is a very interesting film with some breathtaking photography and engaging music. It depicts the influence of listening to great literature upon the mind of an impressionable, intelligent girl peasant/seamstress who ultimately needs to explore her options beyond the narrow confines of country life. (Personally, I thought that the theme of literature's enlivening influence is even better treated in the wonderful book - "Reading Lolita in Tehran"). I could not quite give the movie five stars because there are more moving Chinese films of the cultural revolution, e.g. Gong Li in the masterpiece "To Live." Nevertheless, foreign film addicts will not be disappointed when they buy this DVD."
Juergen Hesse | Toronto, Canada | 02/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After traveling in China for 5 weeks and then reading this excellent book, I really could relate to it. Especially after talking to people in China about the effects of the "Cultural Revolution" this book had an excellent inside. I also recommend the Movie on DVD. J. Hesse"
Lee Armstrong | Winterville, NC United States | 09/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Director Dai Sijie whose newest film is similarly titled "The Chinese Botanist's Daughters" directed this beautiful tale. Set against the context of the Cultural Revolution, it nevertheless presents it in a way that does not seem ominous or threatening, perhaps the opposite approach of Gao Xingjian's novel "One Man's Bible." Ziou Xun played the Chinese Seamstress in her 5th film, which included "Beijing Bicycle." Her performance as the naive rural girl whose mind is less concerned with political orthodoxy than having a good time. The two boys sent to the country for re-education are Luo & Ma. Both are played by actors in their first films. Chen Kun as the good looking dentist's son Luo has now also made "The Music Box" (2006). Liu Ye who played Ma, the violinist, has gone on to work with Lou Ye in "Purple Butterfly," "The Foliage," "Jasmine Woman," "The Promise," & "Dark Matter." Both actors convey a range of emotions from loneliness at separation from their families to bonding with each other and falling in love with Ziou Xun. Wang Shurangbao does a nice job as the chief whose tooth gets filled by Luo. Chung Zhijun also does a nice job as the tailor, the Seamstress' grandfather. Fan Qing Yun fills his cameo as the doctor who performs an abortion and then buys Ma's violin. The film was nominated as best Foreign Language film by the Golden Globes in 2002 & the National Board of Review in 2005. The cinematography is gorgeous as the mountain settings, the cave and streams are beautifully photographed. The end underwater sequence seems to let the experience float timelessly. This is an excellent film, not to be missed. Bravo!
A unique, lovely and inspiring movie
Tintin | Boston, USA | 07/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have seen this movie quite a few times now. It is like a temporary sanctuary shielding me from say the loud-mouthed so-called comedian on TV. No high drama, no yelling and screaming, it is not an epic about the Cultural Revolution (nor is "To Live", though "To Live" tried. You should hit the books or documentaries if you really want to learn about the Cultural Revolution.) With unpretentious acting, breathtaking cinematography, beautiful music and poetic dialogs, this movie is about how civilization's best creations can transcend life.
It is also one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. How often do you get to hear country bumpkins from backwater China quote Balzac, chant "Ursule Mirouet!", and discuss sagebrush branch as a better cure for malaria than willow branch (not to be administered the usual way medicines are, mind you)? The story unfolds like a fable, sometimes surreal, but there is such simplicity to the storytelling and sincerity in the acting, that it feels believable. (It IS semi-biographical after all.) It will make even an old cynic want to read Balzac, Dumas and Kipling, and yearn for something more from life. Truly wonderful. "