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:: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Based on his international bestseller “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” writer/director Dai Sijie brings to the screen an affectionate and moving tale of three young people in a Maoist re-education camp in early 1970’s China.

Two of the three main characters, Ma (Liu Ye) and Luo (Che Kun) are best friends who have been sent high into the hills of rural China to be ‘re-educated’ in ways befitting the Cultural Revolution and have all traces of intellectual or bourgeois learning eradicated. The boys are interned because they are the sons of alleged ‘bourgeois reactionary’ parents (Luo’s father is Chaing Kai-shek’s dentist).

The two boys are put to work hauling large buckets of human excrement to be used as fertilizer, up and down the treacherous mountain tracks en route to the fields. There is little relief for the two city boys until they both meet and fall in love with the granddaughter of the Old Tailor (Chung Zhijun, himself sent to a re-education camp in the early seventies), known simply as the little Chinese seamstress played by Zhou Xun.

When they discover a fellow student has a collection of forbidden European novels, the boys steal books by Flaubert, Dumas and Balzac. They read to the Little Seamstress who is fascinated by the stories, especially those of Balzac. She becomes infatuated with Luo who does most of the reading, but eventually, the stories and ideas contained within the banned literature fill her head to the point where she must leave both boys to venture into the world outside the village.

Despite the time and place of it’s setting, the film is virtually apolitical. The film opens up a side of China not often seen with the Chinese looking beyond their own borders for inspiration and understanding. This is a simple story that conveys what censored literature meant to people at a time when intellectual stimulation was frowned upon. Featuring stunning cinematography and both western and Chinese classical music, the film’s celebration of spirited characters and beautiful countryside was well received at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. Despite being translated into 25 languages, Dai Sijie’s book has not been printed in Chinese and he has not yet been given permission to show the film to Chinese audiences.

Screening at the Kino Cinemas