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'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress'

Luo, an educated student sent to a mountain village, falls for the granddaughter of a visiting tailor.
Luo, an educated student sent to a mountain village, falls for the granddaughter of a visiting tailor.

The French-language film Balzac et La Petite Tailleuse Chinoise is based on an autobiographical novel by Dai Sijie. The book was published all over the world, though not in the author's native China. Now he's adapted it as a screenplay, and directed the movie, too.

The story of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is told during the historical period known as the Cultural Revolution. It follows two educated young men, Luo and Ma, who are sent for re-education to a remote mountain village whose citizens are illiterate. Luo falls for the teenage granddaughter of an elderly tailor, and reads to her from a stash of forbidden books.

The director declines to focus on the unpleasantness of a cruel age fable.

"It's such a romanticized portrait that it's probably best to accept it as a fable," Bob Mondello says. "With all the staying power that that implies."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.