A fascinating film set in China, “I am Not Madame Bovary,” directed by Feng Xiaogang from a screenplay by Liu Zhenyun based on his novel “I Did Not Kill My Husband,” is not only a story about a woman’s obsession to establish truth but a look into corruption in China’s legal and political system.
There is an impressive performance by Fan Bingbing as Li Xuelian, who is the proprietor of a café in a provincial town. She and her husband, a truck driver, get a fake divorce paper in order to acquire an apartment. Once the divorce is approved, her husband dumps her and moves another woman into the apartment with him.
Furious at the betrayal, Li tries to have the divorce declared fake so she can really divorce the cad and establish her honor. The “Madame Bovary” in the title is an English equivalent to a Chinese expression critically labeling a woman who is unfaithful to her husband, as was the wife in the classic French novel.
What Li quickly finds is that the courts do not want to admit that a fake document was sanctioned. As Li’s obsession gets stronger and stronger, we are given a tour through China’s court system. We see the corruption and the political process of doing favors to get something done as the film proceeds with the double edge of an intensely personal quest and the dishonesty she encounters.
Li’s plight is a sad one and, determined to get justice, she pursues her mission through decades of her life. While the story could be told in shorter fashion, it nevertheless is a compelling one, thanks in great measure to Li’s heartfelt performance and the revelations exposed along the way. It also spotlights how an obsession can take over one’s life until one can come to terms with what’s driving it. A Well Go USA release. Reviewed November 18, 2016.