"The visual style of the film is rather interesting, if rather questionable, with much of the film presented in this weird circular display"
China is a country that has always fascinated me, with its fascinating history, rich cultural heritage, beautiful scenery and futuristic looking metropolises. With the country almost certain to become the world’s dominant world power, one can perhaps look forward to seeing a more prominent place for the Chinese film industry and of Chinese films.
Although if that should happen, let’s just hope that they give us something better than the subject of today’s review, the divorce based comedy I Am Not Madame Bovary, a film that I feel doesn’t demonstrate the full potential that the Chinese film industry has to offer.
A woman from a small village embarks upon a ten-year long saga to be granted a divorce from her estranged husband, facing all manner of obstacles as she attempts to navigate the bureaucracy and complexity of the Chinese legal system.
Directed by the popular Chinese comedy director Feng Xiaogang whose films regularly top the Chinese box office and reap massive praise from critics around the world, I Am Not Madam Bovary looks certain to follow this trend of popular and critical popularity. Although, this film also serves as an effective demonstration that sometimes humour does not translate well across languages and continents.
I didn’t find the film funny at all, in fact, I was frankly surprised to find that the film was supposed to be a comedy in the first place. Instead, it feels very much like a drama about one woman’s struggle against the men in power who seek to prevent her from accomplishing her aims.
The film doesn't have anything that can be called jokes, the film doesn’t even make up for its lack of one-liners by giving us some slapstick set pieces, instead, it’s mainly just people sitting or standing in various rooms or in the streets talking about things in the most humourless way possible. While one could argue that the film might, in fact, be a subtle satire of the absurd levels of bureaucracy in the Chinese system of government, I still couldn’t find anything that I could get a handle on, the film just isn’t funny.
While I think this very much due to the Chinese sense of humour perhaps not translating well for a Western audience, it did leave the film feeling like a dull chore to sit through, not helped by the film’s frankly overlong runtime of over 2 hours.
The acting in the film is largely fine, and while the language barrier is something of a hurdle for me when critiquing acting performances I will admit that I found leading actresses Fan Bingbing’s lead performance as a woman who will simply not quit until she wins her case, to be very endearing, particularly in the film’s closing moments when she reveals the rather tragic reasons she wouldn’t quit.
The visual style of the film is also rather interesting, if rather questionable, with much of the film presented in this weird circular display that makes it look like you’re watching the action through a boat’s porthole. It’s a rather peculiar touch but I think it’s perhaps meant to represent close-mindedness or perhaps it’s “tunnel vision” with regards to Bingbing’s characters determination in her legal pursuits.
When the film switches to Beijing and the film’s look opens up to a horizontal letterbox format, the film rather cleverly has characters often standing or moving through rooms that feature circular arches. And when the story reaches its ends, the screen fully opens up, much like Bingbing does when she reveals her true motivations for pursuing her legal case. It’s a nice little touch that, while not really adding much to the story, do seem to seem to emphasise the character’s states of minds somewhat, at least that what I think it represents.
I Am Not Madame Bovary is not an outright awful film. It’s just a film that, in my view doesn’t translate well to a western audience. I couldn’t find anything funny in the film’s supposedly comedic plot and frankly, I found the film overall to be an overlong and tedious bore to watch, even with Fan Bingbing’s decent lead performance. Check it out if you’re a die-hard fan of Chinese cinema, otherwise maybe give it a miss.