November 14, 2005

Cornell Cinema

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While on Monday morning the weekend may seem ages away, keep in mind that this Saturday will be a very active one over at Cornell Cinema. That day Cornell Cinema will be showing a masterful film about China as well as hosting one of today’s best film editors.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002)

Friends Ma (Liu Ye) and Luo (Chen Kun) arrive at a remote village nestled amongst the striking hills and lakes along the Yangtze River now submerged by the Three Gorges Dam. It is in a very different and isolated China in the midst of Mao’s Cultural Revolution that the two bourgeoisie youths must spend time for re-education in the communist way. Their experiences are based on that of director Dai Sijie when he was forced to go to a similar village to learn the proper and peasant way of supporting his nation.

While they go through their backbreaking labor in the village, they meet the daughter of the local tailor affectionately named “Little Seamstress” (Zhou Xun). Luo immediately falls head-over-heals for the beautiful maiden, and Ma happily complies to help his friend win the girls’ love (even though it is apparent that Ma also harbors feelings for her). When the two friends manage to get their hands on some forbidden books, they passionately read them to themselves and the illiterate Little Seamstress.

The film is not solely a love story but also provides a biting yet somewhat entertaining criticism of the mis-directed goals of the social revolution. Both Ma and Luo easily outwit the rather gullible and dumb village director though their intelligence and a gift of a simple alarm clock. In one funny scene, Ma is allowed to play Mozart in the village when Luo insists that the song title is “Mozart is Always Thinking of Chairman Mao.”

Just as effective is when Mao returns to the village, which is being moved to make way for the reservoir from the Three Gorges Dam, after many years of living in Europe. Upon his return, the old ways of the Cultural Revolution have slowly been eroded by the introduction of television. The final change will come with the Dam, which represents China’s rapid change towards capitalism and globalism. Still, even as the village is being moved, the old director is still clinging to his alarm clock; the fact that this film is banned in China shows that there still are factors from Chairman Mao’s reign that refuse to go away.

An Evening with Academy Award-winning Editor Thelma Schoonmaker ’61, Raging Bull (1980), The Aviator (2004)

Two-time Academy Award winner and Cornell Alumnus Thelma Schoonmaker ’61 has been one of the most celebrated and respected film editors in modern cinematic history. She is best know for her collaborations with legendary director Martin Scorsese, which has garnered her Oscars for Raging Bull and, most recently, The Aviator.

Cornell Cinema is extremely fortunate to host Schoonmaker, who is currently working on Scorsese’s newest film, The Departed. She will be interviewed in the Willard Straight Theater by film scholar Kent Jones, Associate Director of Programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Editor-at-Large for Film Comment magazine, this Saturday at 7:30. Tickets go on sale at the Willard Straight Hall Box Office today and are free.

In honor of Schoonmaker’s visit, Cornell Cinema has been, and will continue to show films edited by her. The masterpiece Raging Bull, staring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci which Schoonmaker has referred to as “like my baby,” will be playing on the 16th and 18th. Additionally, the new classic The Aviator staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett will be playing at Cornell Cinema on the 17th and 20th. If you can’t catch Schoonmaker in person, be sure to view her amazing artwork on the screen.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor