Monday, January 28, 2008

In Praise of Sewing

Over the weekend I very happily watched two movies that touch on sewing: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and Broderies (or Sequins).
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Dai Sijie. It concerns two city youths who are sent to remote mountains to undergo re-education at the hands of the local peasantry during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The little seamstress in question is the young granddaughter of the local tailor, who owns a 19th-century sewing machine. Now his granddaughter makes the clothes. Under the influence of a smuggled novel by Balzac, which one of the boys reads to her at night, she begins changing her output, adding "bourgeois" embellishments, such as bows and flounces, to the drab Cultural Revolution garb. The sewing machine also came in for a strange and funny use. The seamstress's skills in sewing appear to be important in giving the seamstress the self-confidence to be so open to what the two city boys brought and had to offer. She soaked up Balzac and the music on violin that one of the boys had brought and changed her life and theirs. I loved both the book and the movie. The movie seems to be a French production but is in Chinese with English subtitles.

The young heroine of Broderies helps embroider a dress in the workshop of her friend and employer.

Broderies is about a 17-year-old girl in a provincial French town who goes to considerable lengths to produce artistic works in embroidery on her own. She is in a personal crisis because she is pregnant with no prospect of help from the unknown (to us) father. In desperation, she seeks and finds work with a woman in the town who is bereaved over the loss of her son and who also produces from her house gorgeous embroidery for the haute couture designers in Paris. Despite a gratuitous sex scene, the film is a sensitive portrayal of two women under considerable pressure, both of whom are dedicated to creating beauty, and the way in which this dedication binds them and strengthens them. I heard about this movie from reading Yarnstorm, and I am glad I searched it out and watched it. It is visually beautiful and offers another peek at the highly skilled work that goes on far behind the scenes to produce the creations of Parisian high fashion.
There is also a French movie called The Lacemaker made in 1977, which according to a reviewer of Broderies, has a lot of scenes of sewing, but I have not been able to get a hold of this movie at a reasonable price.

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