An overlong Kafkaesque comedy drama about a woman’s bid to save her reputation runs out of steam
Based on the Chinese morality play about Pan Jinlian – an adulteress who conspires with her lover to kill her husband – Feng Xiaogang’s satirical drama tells the story of Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing)’s battle with the government to clear her name of the charge of indecency. All of this is wrapped up in the rhetoric of a sticky divorce (and the court’s “wrong verdict”) that drags out for an entire decade, thanks to the ministry’s incompetence and their reluctance to take a marital case seriously (“If it were murder or arson, it wouldn’t be a problem,” one character deadpans).
There are flashes of dark humour here (in one scene, Li tries to convince her butcher to kill her ex-husband) – and plenty of gentle swipes at the Chinese government, but the film is uneven and lagging in pace. Still, it’s frequently beautiful, with Feng constraining most scenes within a circular aspect ratio – a nod to the literati paintings of the Song dynasty – with the frame occasionally opening out to a neat square. The effect is distracting at first, but there’s pleasure to be found in his controlled, geometric framing. At 2hrs 20mins, it’s also far too long, though Du Wei’s thundering, percussive score helps to push the narrative along.
Link : I Am Not Madame Bovary review – slow boat from China