Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Tuesday, April 25, time 7.30 PM


By date


By title


I Am Not Madame Bovary

With this film, Feng Xiaogang confirms himself as one of the most inspired directors of his generation, the one who best meets the demands of entertainment of the film market, with this biting social satire which miraculously made it past the censors unscathed. Despite not having been released in the festive period like his previous hesuipian outings, I Am Not Madame Bovary has proved to be a huge box-office hit (475 million RMB) garnering rave reviews from the critics.

The screenplay is based on the novel by Liu Zhenyun, with whom the director has already worked on some of his most successful films. The story is both simple yet complicated at the same time: a woman betrayed by her husband turns to the law for justice. Previous films such as The Story of Qui Ju by Zhang Yimou in 1992 or
Marriage Certificate
by Huang Jinxin in 2001 have already dealt with this subject matter, but Feng Xiaogang’s film, thanks to its entertaining screenplay and a stylist stratagem which lends a fable-like tone to the story, manages to show the Kafkaesque dynamics of the Chinese legal system without being offensive.

The narrative revolves around Li Xuelian, a simple but obstinate woman from provincial China at the turn of this millennium. As often happens in China, she pretends to divorce her husband so as to obtain an apartment in the city, but the husband takes advantage to the situation by actually leaving her and moving into the apartment with another woman! Hurt and humiliated, Li Xuelian wants to press charges against her husband in order to get the divorce annulled in order to divorce him again – this time for real – and not lose face. But the law does not foresee this kind of eventuality: her divorce, despite having been a sham, is still legal.
Events get further complicated when her husband, irritated by Li’s insistence, accuses her of being a “Pan Jinlian”, which is a nickname for a promiscuous woman, taken from the main character in the masterpiece of erotic Chinese literature The Golden Lotus, and who in the novel kills her husband (hence the name Bovary in the English title of the film; the literal translation would have been “I am not Pan Jinlian”). At this point, Li Xuelian decides to get revenge by killing her husband, but the two men she asks to help her refuse, so she has no other options but to drag her husband to court. To do so, she turns to State party magistrates and functionaries, trying to go higher up the rungs of the party ladder until reaching the National People’s Congress; but she keeps running into the ineptitude of people who do not know how to deal with her case, or that are afraid of making the wrong move and thereby ruining their own careers. Li Xuelian heads to Beijing for the annual meeting of the NPC to demonstrate her case before the congress, despite the astounding attempts by the authorities to prevent her from doing so or to get her to change her mind – the functionaries go from being condescending to threatening to begging… Then she finally decides to give up her battle as a lost cause – advised by her cow, who seems to understand Li Xuelian better than any human – as the authorities no longer believe a word she says…

The film is peppered with richly entertaining scenes, with excerpts from realistic political speeches and slogans which, in the context of the film, seem almost surreal, helped by the stylistic choice of the circular filming which invites the viewer to observe the story as if though through a keyhole. The moral of the tale could be summed up in the memorable words uttered by one of the bureaucrats trailed by Li Xuelian: “A sesame seed has become a coconut, an ant has become an elephant.”
Maria Barbieri
Film director: 
Feng Xiaogang
Running time: 




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