Feng XiaogangChina137 minutes2016ColourMandarin
A café proprietor spends a decade petitioning the Chinese legal system after being swindled by her ex-husband, in this caustically comic contemporary fable from superstar director Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock).
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but few women have been as determined to exact retribution as the heroine of this film. Brilliantly plotted and formally playful, the latest from Chinese director Feng Xiaogang follows its spurned protagonist's decade-long campaign to get a divorce on her own particular terms.
The story of provincial café proprietor Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing) begins as a matter of real estate. In order to acquire the apartment they desire, Xuelian and her truck-driver husband conspire to get a "fake" divorce. Once the divorce goes through, however, Xuelian is shocked to discover that her husband has moved into the apartment with another woman. Thus begins Xuelian's mission to have her extant divorce annulled so she can remarry her husband and then divorce him "for real." It is a question of principle — which is lost on the local magistrate. Xuelian travels to Beijing to take her case to a higher court, but there too she is dismissed.
Years pass, and Xuelian continues to sue the state for failing to recognize her demands. She accosts justices in the streets, hurls herself in front of their cars, and even seeks accomplices to help her kill them all.
Feng is known for his politically astute comedies, and while I Am Not Madame Bovary may be more technically daring than much of his previous work — especially in its use of highly unorthodox aspect ratios — it is similarly a pointed look at Chinese society. In particular, the film is a cleverly comic commentary on Chinese bureaucracy and male fear of single-minded women. Xuelian may not be wealthy or educated, but nothing can stop her from pursuing what she believes she is owed.