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Review: Fan Bingbing carries the weight of a woman wronged in Chinese drama ‘I Am Not Madame Bovary’

Fan Bingbing in the movie "I Am Not Madame Bovary."
(Huayi Bros. Media)

It might be tough for viewers to adjust to the curious visual gimmick of Feng Xiaogang’s social comedy “I Am Not Madame Bovary.” Nearly the entire film is framed inside tight circles and squares, with copious black space around the edge of the screen, to give the sense of a story unfolding through a telescope or a window.

The shapes are a distraction. However, what’s happening within them is compelling enough to overcome the stylistic overkill. Nothing could diminish Fan Bingbing’s performance as the lead, Li Xuelian, a woman who spends a decade trying to get the Chinese government to recognize that she’s been wronged by her husband.

Based on a Liu Zhenyun novel called “I Am Not Pan Jinlian” (after a notorious Chinese femme fatale), the movie covers the collision between bureaucracy, cultural tradition and affairs of the heart. Li and her husband get divorced to cheat the system and get a bigger apartment. When he remarries someone else, she’s left with none of the benefits of their partnership and a reputation as a harlot.

Aside from the eccentric framing — and the static shots, flat lighting and close-ups it necessitates — “I Am Not Madame Bovary” leans heavily on a loud, percussive score. The hyper-dramatic touches help disguise that this is essentially a film about paperwork.

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The rest of the weight is carried by Fan, who’s funny and heartbreaking. She’s a hero for our times: a stubborn woman, willing to inconvenience the powerful to get a fair hearing.

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‘I Am Not Madame Bovary’

In Mandarin with English subtitles

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Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.

Playing: AMC Atlantic Times Square, Monterey Park; AMC Orange 30, Orange

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