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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress   (released 11/12/2005)
By Ali Imran Zaidi

(In Chinese with English Subtitles)

In 2001, writer Dai Sijie wrote a wonderful little novel by the name of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. And I'll be honest. I'd never read it, nor had I ever heard of it. People have told me that's my loss, and I believe them. Luckily, in 2002, Dai adapted it into a screenplay for the rest of us and turned it into what can only be called one of the prettiest films I recall in recent history, and now we're fortunate enough to have it here at our very own DMAC in downtown Orlando. Better late than never.

When I say it's one of the prettiest films I recall, I don't just mean for the obvious. There's sort of a delicacy and an innocent yet heartbreaking reality to the entire film - from the way it was shot, to the lush, beautiful landscapes in which it was shot, to the way the wonderfully acted dialogue is delivered in every shot. It's so intimate and so personal; it's one of those films where you forget you're reading subtitles and immediately get lost in the performances. It's the way it should be, and the actors make it easy.

The story follows two young, educated men Ma and Luo (played by Liu Ye and Chen Kun), on their journey into what is essentially a brainwashing labor camp deep in the heart of Chairman Mao's red China, during its cultural revolution in and around the 70s. Their parents have been branded ‘reactionaries' by government officials for what was probably little more than the crime of being a little too open-minded, educated, free-thinking. As a result, their children have been sent to this camp to allow government officials time to nip their potentially similar, and similarly ‘dangerous' free-spirits in the bud. Keep them occupied with a little hard labor. Can't cause a revolution if you're busy hauling around sewage on your back.

During their stay, our young men meet a young seamstress - the granddaughter of the neighborhood tailor - and immediately take to her naïve, less-educated, but heartwarming personality. Armed with some forbidden western literature, they become teachers not only to her, but to the whole camp, much to the chagrin of those in charge. From there proceeds an unconventional love story of sorts, and one where you're never quite sure who the two love interests really are. It's unconventional. It's unpredictable. It's beautifully nostalgic. It's very Bossa Nova. I loved it; you will too. What more do you want, go see it!

Oh, and a tip for watching subtitled films in case you don't normally frequent them. Always sit in the back - it's easier to read and watch, so your eyes don't have to keep darting up and down. Just don't let subtitles deter you from watching this or any film - that would be so bourgeois.

Ali Imran Zaidi is a filmmaker, writer and web developer - shooting, banging on keyboards, and making web sites in the Orlando area.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress plays at the DMAC Orlando as an encore screening through the Thanksgiving weekend.

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