3 TIFF films reviewed by Gloria Geller

Film Review by Gloria Geller
                       Three movies, three female protagonists – TIFF 2016
I want to talk about three films I saw at TIFF 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival).  The films are: “I’m Not Madam Bovary, a Chinese film directed by Feng Xiaogang starring Fan Bingbing as the female lead; “Tamara and the Lady Bug”, a Mexican/Spanish production, with Mexico City as the location, directed by Lucia Carreras starring Angeles Cruz and Angelina Pelacz and “Carrie Pilby”, with New York City as the location, directed by Susan Johnson, starring Bel Powly.  While the films are very different from one another they have a common theme of a woman on her own struggling with what life has handed her.  Below I give an outline of each film but refrain from giving the whole story away.
In “I’m Not Madam Bovary”, Li Xaelian, a Chinese peasant living in the countryside demands justice for the wrong done to her by her husband and ultimately by the state institutions that refuse to provide the justice she feels she deserves.  The action of the film is framed within a circle or perhaps a bubble within the larger screen when Li is in the countryside. Later, when Li goes to Beijing, the frame is contained within a square inside the larger screen and only as we come to understand the full story is the entire screen used.  I found this technique intriguing.  I would have liked to hear the director discuss his reasons for this but couldn’t stay to hear the question and answer session with director and others involved with this 21/2 hour film.
To summarize, Li and her husband divorced so that one of them would be eligible for an apartment they could not get as a couple because they were already housed.  Once divorced one of them would be eligible for the apartment; they would then remarry and move into the new apartment.  Instead after their divorce her husband married someone else and the two of them got the apartment.  Li believed that because the divorce was granted on the basis of a lie it was an illegal divorce and should be annulled so they could remarry and then divorce legally from her point of view. With this in mind she proceeded on a lengthy crusade to have the divorce overturned.  She approaches a distant relative who is a lawyer to represent her in court.  He tells her the divorce is legal but she insists on taking the case to court.  When the divorce is declared legal Li harasses the officials, judges of the lower and higher courts, higher officials, the mayor and so on.  She decides to travel to Beijing at the time of the People’s Congress to seek justice.  She stays with an old friend, a chef for the dignitaries at the higher court.  He takes her around Beijing but she only wants to meet with the authorities.  She goes out alone and stops the car of the highest official coming to the People’s Congress and tells him her story, stating that the officials in her province have not responded to her demands.  He then harangues the entire Congress and fires the judges, the mayor, and the police chief. 
She goes to see her husband who refuses to admit he had deceived her while declaring in public that because of her behavior she is a Madame Bovary, a term used to describe a woman who has been responsible for causing harm to her husband, a woman who in the west might, I suppose, be called a shrew.  Now she had to clear her name from this social stigma so she continues her search for justice.  She goes to Beijing every year for ten years. Ten years later the authorities are so worried about what she might do that the local police have posted four policemen to watch her 24 hours a day and to prevent her from leaving for Beijing again.  When we see her after ten years she has a new hair cut and is in a relationship with the chef who had been in love with her for many years.  She tells her cousin now the chief justice for the area she won’t be going to Beijing because she had tried for so many years but no one believes her and she is exhausted from the ordeal.  However, none of the officials believe that she does not plan on continuing with her crusade so keep watch over her.  I will leave it to you to learn the outcome of this interesting and thought provoking Chinese film.
In the next film, “Lady Bug” Tamara, a poor, mentally and physically disabled Mexican woman of indigenous background is abandoned by her brother who has been her caregiver since their mother died.  Tamara is not able to care for herself; she is illiterate, does not know how to shop for food or to cook and is child-like in her interests.  She holds down a job as an assistant in a small restaurant and knows which bus to catch to take her to her job and home again.  She is drawn to shiny objects and to small lizards which she catches and brings home to a terrarium.  One day after eating her lunch before catching her bus to go home, she becomes attracted to bubbles which she follows but loses track of where to get her bus.  She sees a kiosk where toys are being sold and uses the little money she has to buy a lady bug pull toy.  By now, quite lost, she hears the voice of a child sitting on the inside of a kiosk where newspapers and magazines are sold, babbling to herself, with no adult around.  Tamara picks up the baby, asks for directions and takes the baby home. Tamara has no comprehension of how to care for the child or what a baby needs.  She struggles to figure out what to do when the baby needs her diaper changed.  She makes some effort to clean the baby whom she names “Lady Bug”.  
By now, although her brother had left some money for her to buy food, Tamara doesn’t understand why the money is there so the fridge is empty and she is hungry.  She leaves the baby alone and walks up to a nearby stall to buy some food from the woman, Dona Meche, who runs the stall.  Dona Meche is a grey haired woman, whose children, from whom she rarely hears, are living in the U.S.  She is being harassed by the police for more money than she is able to provide and is threatened with losing her stall, her sole source of income.  Dona Meche quickly becomes involved with Tamara and Lady Bug when she goes to Tamara’s place to collect money for the food she hadn’t paid for.  From this point on we see the development of the relationship between Dona Meche and Tamara, as Dona Meche tries to figure out how to locate the Lady Bugs’ parents.
Finally,  in the film “Carrie Pilby”, Carrie’s  life is light years away from the impoverished Mexican women discussed above and from Li, the Chinese peasant.  A Brit, Carrie’s mother died when she was 12 years old.  A child prodigy, her father sent her to Boston at the tender age of 14 to attend Harvard from which she graduated at 18.  Refusing to return to cold, damp London, she goes to New York City where she, friendless, lives in an apartment on her own.  Her father arranges for her to see a psychiatrist who is a family friend.  Carrie is angry and disdainful of others who don’t have her I.Q.  She sits at home alone reading all week long.  Carrie’s father arranges for her to take a job in a law office editing legal copy, a night job so she doesn’t have to put up with other people. She has two colleagues at work, a geeky guy and a woman who makes an effort to take Carrie in hand, inviting her out to hear music.
Meanwhile the psychiatrist asks her to think about things she would like to accomplish by the end of the year, about six weeks off since it isThanksgiving when we first meet her. She is upset that her father has cancelled his plans to come to New York for Thanksgiving. 
Carrie forgets to make the list but the psychiatrist makes one for her.  The items on the list include getting a pet, doing something she enjoyed when she was younger, making a friend, going out on a date and spending time with someone at New Years. We watch Carrie’s reluctant efforts to fulfill the list starting with buying two goldfish she names Spencer and Kathryn after her favourite movie stars.  She buys a cherry drink she had always enjoyed. Carrie meets a man who happens to live in the apartment next door who is also on his own.  However, things get harder for her when she finally discovers that her father is going to remarry and that rather than coming to New York for Christmas as he has done in previous years he wants her to come to London to meet his fiancé and her children.  And while the inevitable does occur, the film shows Carries struggles due to the loss of her mother at an early age and her aloneness living in an apartment in a New York City.
While different on many levels, all three women experience abandonment and loneliness.  The two former films address issues of greater societal significance however each woman in her own way has to struggle at a personal level with the problems life has thrown at them. 


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