Last night I watched Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress on Netflix, a movie celebrating reading and the human need for stories.
A few foreign (mostly French) novels transform the lives of people in a remote area of China during the Cultural Revolution. Two young men sent there for re-education manage to obtain the forbidden literature, which they read to the “Little Chinese Seamstress” (LCS) and retell to the villagers at various points in the film. Although they pride themselves on the way they are educating the LCS, she surprises them by taking the lessons to heart and walking right out of the men’s lives and out of the movie, her ultimate fate left unresolved, though the narrator and his friend both later try to find her. It is as though she wasn’t expected to have any agency of her own and then all of a sudden she does; probably that is how it seems from a male point of view! The narrator even goes back to the village to find her and asks for the “little seamstress” as though expecting to find her still there frozen in time, as she must be in his memory.