I will not go into raptures about the wonders of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, or the picturesque charm of the hutongs, or even the delights of eating jellyfish salad and crickets grilled on a skewer. Nor will I talk about the sense of losing oneself in contemplation of the staggering views at the top of the Great Wall of China or the expert touch of the masseuses in the local salons. More importantly, I will spare you my economic catechism on the dynamism of a country that is in constant transition. Because when I arrived in Beijing, I felt like I was stepping across the borders of a civilization that was so rich and complex that I would not being able to say anything that didn’t sound like a bunch of clichés.
Since I was invited by Unifrance to present Copacabana in Beijing, Schenzen, and Canton, I prefer to speak about Chinese audiences’ reaction to the film. I firmly believe that humor relies on cultural complicity, but I feared that this comedy would not appeal to people and that the best I could hope for was polite applause. How could a character like Babou–eccentric and self-centered, blasé about family responsibilities–resonate with what I considered the traditional values of this society? For starters, I was delighted to discover that the theaters were packed at every screening. No doubt this bears witness to Chinese audiences’ enthusiasm for French culture, and more generally, for Western culture. Then, as I hid in a corner of the theater, waves of laughter from the audience told me that the film had hit the bull’s eye and crushed my preconceived ideas about the weight of tradition in Asia. This was confirmed by questions raised during our discussion sessions, which were highly relevant, showing a strong understanding and empathy with the character of Babou. She was perceived as a heroine. Does this mean that for her role in Copacabana, Isabelle Huppert transformed herself into a Chinese woman?