[Blueboard] Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Chinese Studies Program chinese at admu.edu.ph
Tue Jan 20 08:44:57 PHT 2004

The Chinese Studies Program

invites you to a special screening of


Starring Xun Zhou, Kun Chen and Ye Liu. 
Directed by Dai Sijie. Written by Dai Sijie and Nadine Perront. 

Nominated for the 2002 Best Foreign Film, Golden Globe Awards
Official Selection at Cannes, Edinburgh, and Palm Springs Film Festivals

Friday, 23 January 2004
4:30 p.m. 


Out of the joyless era of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Dai Sijie has 
fashioned a story of adolescent love, the irrepressible power of the 
imagination and the pure joy of reading, and told it with affection and 

Based on his novel of the same name, an international bestseller published 
in 25 languages, Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress draws on Dai's 
experiences as the 17-year-old son of two doctors who was sent away to be 
"re-educated." Far from his home in Fujian province, Dai lived among 
mostly illiterate peasants in a mountain village in Sichuan from 1971 to 
1974. Like the two boys in his story, Ma and Luo, he worked in the fields 
and in a copper mine. When his indoctrination was deemed complete, Dai 
returned home to complete his high school education. In 1984 he went to 
France on a university scholarship and has resided there ever since.

A graduate of French film school, Dai makes films with a Western 
sensibility. (His previous features include China, My Sorrow, The Eleventh 
Child and Le mangeur de lune.) This one contains a nod to Francois 
Truffault's Jules et Jim, in the love that grows between the two bourgeois 
boys and the granddaughter of the local tailor who calls herself The 
Little Seamstress.

With unlikely ease, the boys adjust to a life of hauling sewage used as 
fertilizer, crawling underground in the mine and exposure to malaria. 
Stripped of their bourgeois belongings, they cannot be robbed of their 
education and cultural sophistication. Quick thinking saves Ma's violin 
from destruction. When he plays it, Luo explains to the peasant 
revolutionaries that the music is "Mozart thinking of Chairman Mao."

Learning that Four Eyes, a bespectacled young man whose conversion is 
complete, has a secret cache of forbidden books, Luo and Ma scheme to 
steal them. Their treasure includes works by Flaubert, Hugo, Tolstoy, 
Dickens, Dumas, Rousseau and, best of all, Balzac. Luo conceives a 
re-education plan of his own. "I swear I'll transform The Little 
Seamstress. I'll cure her of her ignorance." He reads to her nightly and 
they become lovers.

On the pretext that they're recreating an Albanian film they've been sent 
to see, the boys stage nightly storytelling sessions for the whole 
village, feeding them The Count Of Monte Cristo story. 

The Little Seamstress loses her innocence as well as her ignorance. After 
she becomes pregnant, Ma takes her to a hospital for an abortion. The 
Little Seamstress then departs the village, leaving both boys 
heart-broken. Twenty years later, Ma is a musician in Paris when he learns 
that the village is to be flooded in a hydro-electric project. He goes 
back in search of the Little Seamstress but fails to find her. As the 
floodwaters submerge the village, all that Luo and Ma have experienced is 
preserved only in memory, a story to be told like the fiction they so 

Shot in the mountains of Sichuan, not far from the inaccessible village 
where Dai was re-located, Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress gains a 
lot of its seductive quality from the exquisite mountain landscape and the 
beauty of young actors Xun Zhou as The Little Chinese Seamstress, Kun Chen 
as Luo and Ye Liu as Ma. Rather than a depiction of the trials imposed on 
China's citizens during the Cultural Revolution, Dai's film is a 
delightful fable about the enduring value of literature.

-Susan Walker, Toronto Star

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