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In 1971 China, in the lingering grip of the cultural revolution, two university students, Luo and Ma, are sent to a mountain mining village as part of their reeducation duty to purge them of their classical western oriented education. Amid the backbreaking work and stifling ignorance of the community, the two boys find that music, and the presence of the beautiful local young women are the only pleasant things in their miserable life. However, none compare to the young seamstress granddaughter of the local tailor. Stealing a departing student's secret cache of forbidden books of classic western literature such as the works of Honore de Balzac, they set about to woo her and teach her things she had never imagined. In doing so, they start a journey that would profoundly change her perspective on her world and teach the boys about the power of literature and their own ability to change their world in truly revolutionary ways.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Whoever said "No girl was ever spoiled by reading a book"?
"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" is supposed to be an ode to the transforming power of music and literature, beauty and love. But it fails to fulfil its promise, and downplays transformations of another kind. It makes light of the Cultural Revolution effected in China by Chairman Mao Zedong, portrays the Chinese people as unschooled rubes. It overlooks the fact that the primary means of disseminating Chairman Mao's wisdom was, in fact, a book -- his "Little Red Book". All we get is a rehash of simplistic contrasts between revolutionary and reactionary, peasant and bourgeois.
In the end, of course, progress and modernity triumph. Or do they? The much-vaunted "culture" of bourgeois intellectuals, embodied in the novels of Balzac, Dumas and Stendhal, ultimately yields the decadent opulence of consumerism. The re-educated boys' greatest gift to the little Chinese seamstress is to teach her how to read (and think). But in the end, the best they can offer her is a little bottle of perfume by Yves Saint Laurent.
Ironically, progress proves to be destructive, wiping out the past. But the film's denouement reaches neither the soaring heights of joy, nor the searing depths of tragedy, "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" manages no more than a wistful nostalgia.
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