Screened as part of NZIFF 2003
The French-based Chinese director Dai Sijie has translated his autobiographical novel, set in 1971 during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, into a lyrical coming-of-age movie. Luo and Ma, the sons of ‘reactionary intellectuals’, are sent to a remote mountain village for ‘re-education’ through hard labour in the fields and down a coal mine. Both fall for the lovely daughter of the local tailor. Their discovery of a suitcase full of forbidden Western novels (Flaubert, Gogol, Balzac) spurs an intellectual and romantic awakening as Luo’s teenage crush turns to passion and his tutoring of the seamstress opens the girl’s eyes to life beyond the village and the boys. With its spectacular mountain scenery and bittersweet evocation of youthful ardour, this French-Chinese coproduction tempers its surprising nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution with faith in the liberating power of fiction.
“With a mood not far from Cinema Paradiso, the movie is full of humanity and pathos… a gentle fairy tale, partly, but only partly, taken from real life.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian