I am not madame bovary
REVIEW BY OISÍN WALSH
I Am Not Madam Bovary, directed by Chinese filmmaker Feng Xioagang, follows Lian (Fan Bingbing) who attempts to sue her husband who swindled her into divorcing him, believing it would only be temporary, so that he could marry another woman. This leads her on a path to exact revenge upon him creating a story which is often comic, sometimes melancholic but always captivating. Xiogang successfully brings humour into the film, for example, the ridiculous speed at which Lian unforgivingly adds names of high ranking officials to her revenge list when they refuse to listen to her case and grant her the verdict she desires. The director also succeeds in handling the sensitive issue of a vivid gender divide with great finesse.
The narrative is, on the surface, a quirky comedy but, it also manages to deal with important issues, central among them is how women are often treated by men. There are almost no women in the film besides Lian; she is the sole representative. The narrative can be split into two acts, the first in which Lian cannot secure the attention or respect of the men she deals with. This contrasts with the second act in which she cannot get rid of them. This progression effectively displays the unjust and irritating manners which Lian is forced to endure and it allows us, as an audience, to see how frustrating her position is.
The male characters in this film are at risk of becoming caricatures; inept, incompetent and narrow minded officials who blindly fail to foresee the consequences of their actions. However, Xioagang ensures that these characters are well-rounded. This is a remarkable achievement as the characters maintain the comedy of the caricature but attain a depth not normally afforded to them.
Lian is a fantastic protagonist as she is an underdog that can’t be stopped. Her original issue is with her ex-husband but as she encounters obstacles usually in the form of officials who refuse to listen to her, the list of people who wrong her grows longer until she brings her situation to the attention of the nation’s government in the capital. As the years pass, her fury dies down and this is transition is played to perfection by Bingbing; she is silent and steady. This is profoundly effective as those who once paid her no attention, now fear her knowing that she is capable of causing chaos. The fact that she remains comparatively calm leads them to suspect that she is planning an even greater disaster for them.
The images of the film are quite captivating. Much of the film is shot through an iris which condenses the screen into a circle in the centre of the screen as opposed to the classic widescreen appearance that most films opt for today. This draws the focus into the action that is taking space within the confined space and commands our attention in a very subtle fashion. The film itself is beautifully shot. Lian is often pictured as a figure marching with the strength of one who is leading an army, despite the fact that she is often alone in seeking justice against her enemies. Despite the restrictions of the unique filming style, the majesty of the Chinese countryside is still gorgeously captured. From the mountain ranges to the bustling urban regions of the country, all of them are done justice by the cinematography and serve as visual treats for the audience within the comic narrative of the film.
Helmed by a dominant lead performance, supported by a gallery of dedicated peripheral characters and realised through the fine direction of Xiongang, I Am Not Madam Bovary will undoubtedly inspire laughter from its audience and, hopefully, will illuminate further gender imbalance in society. Most of all, it is sure to entertain the audience with its charm and beauty.