The movie version of Sijie Dai’s popular novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress begins with great promise. A filmmaker in France since the late 1980s, Dai adapted his book into a screenplay with Nadine Perront and took the director’s reins himself.
Much like his leading men, Luo and Ma (handsomely embodied by Kun Chen and Ye Liu, respectively), Dai endured the absurdist horrors of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In the first half of the 1970s, Dai was “re-educated,” which is to say he was forced into menial labor as a means to “free” his mind and spirit from the influences of Western thought. The Revolution and its renunciation of pop music were the subject of Dai’s first film, 1989’s China, My Sorrow. In Balzac, masterpieces of French literature (banned, of course) are read, savored in secret, by a pair of young bibliophiles to a naïve 17-year-old peasant girl, whom they wish to “cure” of her ignorance.
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