Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Rated NR 2005

This pleasant, largely forgettable drama is exactly what you'd expect from a film adaptation of Dai Sijie's novel of the same name. The book became a best-seller, most likely because its straightforward story, about a pair of Beijing boys exiled to rural China to be "reeducated" in peasant life and party-line Maoism, offers an easy, sympathetic morality: That is, that repression is bad and literature is good. The movie enjoys -- and suffers from -- the same simplicity. Friends Luo and Ma are the middle-class sons of "reactionary" intellectuals. During their enforced years in the gorgeous and grueling countryside, the boys fall for the same girl, a seamstress and local beauty. When the three discover a suitcase filled with contraband Western literature, they luxuriate in its forbidden pleasures, both cerebral and visceral. The film is beautifully shot and well-acted, but, like the book, it never achieves anything like the import of the stories that inspired it. Balzac is even a little dull, especially toward the end.

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