I Am Not Madame Bovary

A superior cinematic adaptation of Flaubert's novel, set in smoggy Beijing.

Gustave Flaubert’s literary character Madame Bovary has been popping up in world cinema lately, but thankfully, Feng Xiaogang’s wry if overlong I Am Not Madame Bovary is an improvement over last year’s tired French sex farce Gemma Bovery. After Li (Fan Bingbing) and her husband Qin (Li Zonghan) get a divorce as a scam to secure a second apartment with the intention of remarrying six months later, Qin reneges on their deal and marries a different woman. Li sets out to sue Qin to prove the divorce was a con so she can remarry him and then divorce him for real. Qin slut-shames her, Bovary-style, for not being a virgin on their wedding night, and Li’s efforts have repercussions felt as high up as the National People’s Congress in Beijing. For a film with such a strong sense of the absurdities of laws and human relationships, the picture’s pace often lags, and it might have been snappier, without losing any power, if it were half an hour shorter. But the film does work as an interesting formalistic experiment, mostly shot in a circular fame except for certain Beijing scenes — and unlike many other recent Chinese films, I Am Not Madame Bovary doesn’t attempt to prettify the smoggy, overcrowded landscape, making the already-small frame feel that much more claustrophobic.

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