Movie review of “I Am Not Madame Bovary”: This long, visually irritating comic satire follows a peasant woman (Fan Bingbing) who seeks revenge after having been duped by her ex-husband. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
Rarely has a circle ever been more irritating.
The first thing you notice watching “I Am Not Madame Bovary,” a somewhat comic satire from China, is the round frame of its images — akin to looking through a telescope.
How charming, one thinks during the film’s opening scene, in which an insistent peasant woman, Lian (Fan Bingbing), appeals to her local chief justice about having been duped by an ex-husband. Set in a rustic country village, the action and its surroundings feel like a fable captured in a round, miniature painting.
Movie Review ★★
‘I Am Not Madame Bovary,’ with Fan Bingbing, Li Zonghan. Directed by Feng Xiaogang, from a screenplay by Liu Zhenyun, based on her novel “I Did Not Kill My Husband.” 128 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Pacific Place.
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You wait for the effect to vanish as the usual boxy dimensions of a movie must surely kick in. But that never happens (except for a couple of brief passages) in this latest from director Feng Xiaogang (“Cell Phone”), and suddenly you realize you’re stuck looking at a visual gimmick for more than two hours.
It’s a long two-plus hours, too. The exhausting one-note story finds Lian enraged because she and her ex, Qin (Li Zonghan), had agreed to divorce in order to take possession of an apartment officially available only to singles. But instead of remarrying Lian, per their arrangement, Qin married someone else.
Now Lian wants somebody in China’s vast bureaucracy to nullify the first “fake” divorce so she can divorce Qin all over again. Qin retaliates by accusing her of being promiscuous, a “Madame Bovary.”
Brushed aside by the chief justice, a court and one titled pencil-pusher after another, Lian presses her lawsuit all the way to the highest levels of government in Beijing. For the next decade, she strikes terror among the nation’s bosses.
The script by Liu Zhenyun becomes ponderous and redundant, kept on oxygen by its lead actress’s complex performance as a child-woman with enigmatic wisdom. A half-hour shaved from the running time would have made “I Am Not Madame Bovary” more rigorous.