|Filles du botaniste, Les 2006 China, France The Chinese Botanist's Daughters|
The asshole in this film is the Chinese botanist and he represents a tyrannical and repressive society. He makes ancient herbal remedies in a botanical paradise he has constructed on an island that is supposed to be somewhere in Yunnan Province, China. The long suffering woman in the film is his twenty year old daughter. She waits on him hand and foot. She cuts his toenails. She represents all that is good and new and wonderful yet shackled in the modern world.
The film has good intentions and attempts to expose some of the lingering absurdities of Chinese traditional values in general and those of the Cultural Revolution in particular. One day another young woman arrives on the island to intern with the botanist. She brings a talking bird that squawks "Long live Chairman Mao" all the time. The two women fall in love, the father sees this forbidden love in the flesh and dies of a heart attack. The two young women are put to death for the crime of the disease of homosexuality that caused the death of a prized botanist.
The director wants to make a point of how fucked up the situation is but he takes it to a ridiculous extreme, much like the film's soundtrack of crescendoing choruses and violins. It's too bad because the film has a strong and very sensual visual appeal. As mentioned, the film's location is supposed to be somewhere in Yunnan, one of the most beautiful places in the world, but because of the homosexual content Chinese authorities prohibited the director from filming there. The irony! So it's filmed in Vietnam where it's green and lush and dripping wet. If all the scenes of the father being an idiot were removed The Chinese Botanist's Daughters would be a gorgeous film.
Sijie Dai, the film's writer and director, was sent to a reeducation camp as a young man during the Cultural Revolution. He's clearly exorcising demons and I would like to applaud his efforts but while the theme of The Chinese Botanist's Daughters is worthwhile the particulars are schmaltzy, unpleasant, and far too melodramatic. Dai's earlier film Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a much better film dealing with the Cultural Revolution.
Mylène Jampanoï, who stars as the woman with the talking bird, went on to star in the French extreme horror film Martyrs.
Summary: Set in China in the 1980s or 1990s, the film tells the story of Li Ming, a young orphan of Tangshan earthquake, who leaves to study at the home of a renowned botanist. A secretive man and commanding father, he lives on an island that he has transformed into a luxurious garden. Anxious to share this solitary life, his daughter, An, welcomes with joy the arrival of the female student. Soon their friendship develops into a sensual, but forbidden attraction. Incapable of separating themselves, Ming and An create a dangerous arrangement to be able to continue spending their lives together: Ming marries An's brother, who is a PLA soldier and cannot bring his wife with him. However, An and Ming's relationship is observed by the botanist who thus gets a heart attack. Before he dies, he tells police that it's his daughter and daughter-in-law's homosexuality "disease" that kills him. Thus, An and Ming are sentenced to death by a court and executed.