One of the most expected world premieres at TIFF this year was "I Am Not Madame Bovary" (watch the trailer above), the latest feature conducted by the Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, having the leading role played by Fang Bingbing as Li, a peasant young woman who decides with his husband to fake a divorce in order to get a financially better mortgage to buy their house. After that, they would ask for the divorce to be annulled and remarry again. Turns out her husband moves to their new house with another woman, breaking up the deal with Li. Feeling deeply betrayed, Li wants her ex-husband to admit the hoax before the judge. Yet the court determines that the original severance is legal, once the husband confirms his version of the facts. Not satisfied, he humiliates Li in front of the whole village, calling her "Madame Bovary", which in China means unfaithful and devious wife - not surprisingly.
However, Li doesn't see herself as a victim. She decides to struggle all the way to the several bureaucratic ranks to untie the fake-legal divorce and prove she was deceived by her husband and the law system. It is a quest for regain her honor. Or better put, to rub off in everyone's face that she is not going to comply with being labeled as a liar neither a slut. In other terms, "Madame Bovary, it's not me", Li states, the opposite of what is written by Gustave Flaubert at the beginning of the storytelling of her ambitious, lost and tragically trapped heroine.
In a country of billions of people, in a society where men are culturally the rulers, the strive of this pale figure of Li gains strong shades either of a super heroine who wants revenge or of a everywoman who just claims for respect in this macho-topped down world.
The feeling of being caught in a net of prejudice and conservative judgment is shared by the 2 "Emma Bovary". Though what shapes our Chinese alias differently from the classical archetype is her willing to find a way out of her petty condition, even if this would cost years of her life, no matter if she succeeds or not. At least, the attempt of quaking and shivering the political and social ladder in a male-dominant society is what it counts for her.
Going further, also distinctively from our literary Bovary, Li feeds less and less expectations towards fate and other people's help. She takes initiatives, grabs her life and grudges in her hands and moves on fighting. That is her choice. Not the choice of being loved or saved or forgiven by the men around her. The latter was Emma Bovary's choice, which has led, in full deceit, to her deadly arsenic swallowing (anyway, also a choice made).
Beautifully shot in the tradition of Chinese painting - circular "tunnelvision" perspective for the province scenes - and vertical rectangular shaping of the big screen for the Beijing plots, the cinematography option for "I Am Not Madame Bovary" reminds me of a fable atmosphere. In which the ant - Li - pulls all her strength and resources together to fully live as a woman in a environment restrained by conservative laws, by a social-political Kafkanian framework. And by lots of deception. Ants do not use to giving up so easily.
|The circle-shaped framing of most of the sequences of "I Am Not Madame Bovary"|
|Cast members Guo Tao, Fan Bingbing, Feng Xiaogang and Dong Chengpeng (L to R) attend the world premiere of the film "I Am Not Madame Bovary" at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2016|
PS - Fan Bingbing is not only one of the most famous actresses in China nowadays but also one of the best paid in the whole film industry.