I Am Not Madame Bovary Feng
Courtesy of TIFF

I Am Not Madame Bovary,” the latest drama film from China’s leading director Feng Xiaogang, has unexpectedly lost its Sept. 30 release date.

While a new date has been announced for Nov. 18, the reasons for the abrupt rescheduling are not clear.

The film had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where it was screened as a special presentation and went on to win the FIPRESCI prize. This week Feng travelled with the film to the San Sebastian festival.

Neither distributor Sparkle Roll, nor producer Huayi Brothers Media, or Feng’s agent CAA have offered any explanation for the delay.

“Bovary” tells the contemporary tale of a peasant woman who feels wronged by China’s justice system in her divorce case, and stubbornly attempts multiple appeals through lower courts, with city mayors and onward to Beijing. As she doggedly pursues justice, she wreaks havoc along the ladder of petty bureaucrats and officials who are far more interested in self-advancement and toadying to their superiors, or simply seek to maintain superficial social harmony.

With such an agenda, even state-controlled media have openly speculated that the film had failed to get censorship approval. Sources close to the director, however, tell Variety that it has passed censorship. The film screened in Toronto without displaying the SARFT certificate that would definitively have proved that point.

Even so the flap is difficult to ignore. Not only is Feng China’s highest profile and most commercially successful director — three of Feng’s previous films have earned China’s selection for the foreign language Oscar, though none received a nomination – “Bovary” also features superstar Fan Bingbing proving her acting abilities in an astonishingly unglamorous role.

Artistically too, the film is daring. Feng employs top notch cinematography and presents it within a circular frame for most of the film’s length. Though sometimes he varies it with a square frame and occasionally employs ravishing flashes of widescreen.

The shift to November has multiple consequences, including cancellation of a planned premiere, and the film’s ineligibility as China’s foreign-language Oscar contender this year.

It also removes “Bovary” from the end of September-early October National Holiday period, when cinema-going typically booms. That avoids a clash with a number of other anticipated titles. And it means Fan no longer has two of her bigger titles going head to head. She also stars in “L.O.R.D. Legend of Ravaging Dynasties,” by “Tiny Times” writer director Guo Jingming.

In an interview in Toronto Feng said: “Unlike most other directors who have gone from artistic to commercial, I am moving from mainstream to more artistic.”

Well Go USA has distribution rights for North America.

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