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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 12A Cert – Under 12s admitted only with an adult 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a coming-of-age tale set during China's cultural revolution.  It's a story about youth, love and courage, but mostly it's about the transformative power of books.

Luo (Chen Kun) and Ma (Liu Ye) are teenage boys who have been sent into the country in the 1970s for re-education.  As the sons of "reactionary intellectuals" (one's father is a dentist), they are sent to a village in the mountains to learn to live with the general population.  This entails endless labour, such as working the fields and in the mines.

Despite huge changes in their lives, Luo and Ma adjust to their new surroundings with a combination of wit and work.  To play violin, for example, they must pretend Mozart composed songs of the revolution for Mao.  And they can read, which gives them an advantage over the villagers and a sense of their own small rebellion.

An old tailor in the region is much-respected; he visits in the village with his beautiful granddaughter (Ziiou Xun), and both city boys fall in love with her.  They dub her the Little Chinese Seamstress and they try to teach her to read.  Meanwhile, the head of the village lets these two "bourgeois intellectuals" tell stories to the others, and Luo and Ma describe the movies they have seen in the city.

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is a semi-autobiographical story from filmmaker Dai Sijie and is based on his bestselling first novel.  Dai was sent to Sichuan for re-education between 1971 and 1974, and after Mao's death, finished his education and eventually moved to France.

There is an innocence at the centre of Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress and it's all about the characters.  The film is often funny and always delightful, but is bittersweet overall for its theme of lost youth.  Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress is a transporting story about storytelling.

Percival Tucker

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)