(click here to see the movie from 1948
A Chinese movie from 1948. Banned later by Communists for being too bourgeois style, hidden in the archives of the political police of the regime, rediscovered in the eighties. Some consider it the Chinese masterpiece. Wong Kar-Wai
puts Spring in a Small Town
in his world top five (along with movies by Ray
One year before the Communist victory in China, a film director who would die in the early 50's (Fei Mu
) made a movie about love and loyalty, about spoiled lives and smoldering passions... he told us so much in 90 minutes...
There are just a handful of movies that differ from all other movies by their singular composition. Each of these has a unique architecture, not to be seen elsewhere. Человек с киноаппаратом
is such an example: a movie that's creating itself in front of our eyes. Spring in a Small Town
has also a unique architecture, making it different from all other movies.
Two parallel streams - the female lead character tells us the story, leaving her thoughts to flow freely while the images go along with her recitative (using a very modern technique for that time - each image is turning up and rising on the screen, just to dissolve itself in the next image).
It's about a failed marriage. The husband has been years ago a rich man, a landlord or something. Meanwhile the household was destroyed by war and now he indulges himself in an imaginary sickness, just to make an inferno from his own life as well as from the lives of everybody surrounding him.
The wife goes for shopping every day, and takes advantage to make always a walk along the town walls (damaged also by war). It is her own pleasure. And this scene (that appears several times in the movie) has a surreal beauty. It contains joy and nostalgia, the awareness that's the only joy, the desire to prolong it, make it contain the whole life. It says us more than thousand words, and with such poignancy!
I found in a poem written by an Iranian poet, Forough Farrokhzad
, a string of amazing verses - it was like they were speaking about this scene from Spring in a Small Town
Perhaps life is
A long street along which a woman
With a basket passes every day
They got married ten years ago (arranged marriage of course, as was the custom those times) - they have been living in separate rooms for eight years.
Suddenly an old friend of the husband comes to visit. They haven't seen each other for around ten years. The friend is now a medical doctor in a big city. Looking very modern, handsome and full of life. And the house gets filled with life.
There is an unexpected surprise though: the doctor and the wife had been in love long, long time ago. He had left (we can guess that in order to fight in the war against Japanese, then to follow his medical studies). She had not waited for him. The passion springs again, tempestuously. Both of them value loyalty while blood stirrers them both and nears them dangerously. When one of them is on the brink of forgetting honor, the other keeps strong.
What follows is a horrid erotic game, played perversely, with ups and downs, with ambiguities, with simulations, with regards telling a lot, advancing toward the sin, remaining there, on the brink, just to savor the mental image.
And here comes the evening when there is too much alcohol and their feelings explode.The loyalty still wins, just in the last second, making them crazy.
The husband observes now the obvious and his reaction is unexpected: as his wife looks now so happy he realizes how much he loves her. His jealousy is fighting with a sudden generosity that we wouldn't have presumed at him.
How does it end all this? As expected, without resolution, because that's life, it never gives resolutions.
Think at Chekhov
's plays and stories and you'll realize the beauty of this movie. The mirage stays in the details: it is the subtle analysis that counts here, not the outcome. And each detail is loaded with poignancy, up to explode.
So, this was the movie of 1948. Tian Zhuang-Zhuang
did a remake in 2002, Springtime in a Small Town
A few words about Tian
: belongs to the so-called Fifth Generation
of Chinese filmmakers (all of them lived the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution as teens, with public humiliations, work in the camps and all that; all of them were able to attend movie art studies in their late twenties only; they were then the firsts to be allowed to express freely in their artworks; or rather freely, with ups and downs from the censure; and all of them were marked by the terrible experiences they had passed through in their youth).
One of the first movies of Tian
was On the Hunting Ground
, in 1984: a composition on the border between documentary and fiction, shot in Inner Mongolia, the life of a small hunting community observing traditional values, surviving from archaic times. I didn't have the opportunity to see this movie: I've read about its haunting images telling the whole story by themselves and making words unnecessary (anyway the hunters were talking Mongolian, and Tian
didn't feel the need to offer any translation).
On the Hunting Ground
was followed by The Horse Thief
, in 1985, shot in Tibet this time. I haven't seen this movie either, and I would be very interested in it: a cinematic poem about simple people living in communion with a universe where old traditions mix with an archaic sense of the surrounding nature, simple people having to fight with huge existential challenges while keeping their old beliefs and rituals. Like in his previous movie, Tian
doesn't need to explain rituals; he lets them speak for themselves. A story that reminds me a masterpiece of Parajanov
, Tini Zabutykh Predkiv
For the censors these two movies about communities from remote regions living in accordance with archaic values were still graspable (though highly suspect, either), but Tian
came in 1993 with The Blue Kite
, and this time it was too much for the regime. Tian
was so open about the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution, that he was simply banned to make another movie for about ten years (and I'm thinking again at Parajanov
: after Tini Zabutykh Predki
v came Sayat Nova
, and the director was sent by the Soviet regime to the camp for a good couple of years).
And then, in 2002, when Tian
was finally allowed to make again movies, he took the forgotten masterpiece from 1948 to give it the life it deserved: and he made Springtime in a Small Town
It's not just a remake. It's much, much more: you feel the tender love of Tian
for the original film. A film that had been a masterpiece and was virtually unknown. A masterpiece with a life cut short. Tian
wanted badly to give the original film from 1948 the life it deserved - to make that old movie known to the whole world, to make everybody aware about the masterpiece of Fei Mu
knew much more about the story in the movie than the story had been aware itself: because the story from 1948 could still believe that after the long winter of the WWII, there was now spring, a renewal of life, to be developed in the burgeoning of summer. All the personages were still recovering from the traumas of war, while trying to come to terms with their own intimate traumas.
The story could not be aware then, in 1948, that spring would be followed by harsh winter: the husband and wife would be judged as class enemies, humiliated publicly, sent to the camp or shot by a firing squad. The doctor that had fought against Japanese would not escape either, as he had fought within the rangs of the Kuomintag
army. Now, in 2002, Tian
was able to tell not only us, for we already knew the history as it followed; to tell to the story itself its fate.
A story telling with delicacy about the tumult of family passions could not be other way than beautiful and fragile, as Chinese spring was in 1948: Tian
wanted to protect this fragility against all storms that would follow in China from 1949 on.
The original movie was black and white. Tian
made a color movie and associated with a great cameraman, Li Pin-Bing
, to give the story the gorgeous images it deserved.
He renounced at the architecture of the original film. His movie should not have been just a colored copy. So he replaced the two streams (the recitative of the wife - the images dissolving each one in the next) with a unique flow: the plot is developing this time in great images where settings and landscape are active participants. A universe where humans and objects are pairs, each of them playing a role in her or his own right.
The camera is scanning the whole scene, gliding from left to right, or from right to left, looking without haste for the personages - meanwhile it is caressing the objects it finds on its move (be them pieces of furniture, or trees, or old narrow streets, whatever). The personages are found eventually by the filming device, and framed by objects that become significant as well - the hero is near a chair, or near an electrical lamp, or among run down walls, or near a tree, and you feel that the object is there to support the personage - it is a story told by images in a universe created by the director; a universe where objects speak their wordless language.
, the remarkable specialist in Asian cinema, tells us about an episode that happened during the shooting of the movie: Tian
hugged once a tree that was to play a special role in one of the scenes. The universe of humans and objects and nature was his own universe, his child, and he loved it with passion!
Each scene from the original movie was reconsidered this way. The action also was changed in each scene: it is happening slightly different, but you feel that the story in each scene is not just a copy, while not something new either; it's rather a commentary, to emphasize the greatness of what was done in 1948!
Well, Springtime in a Small Town
is a great movie in its own right, and it's done with a sense of profound humility for the masterpiece that had been Spring in a Small Town
I was touched to see (in an extra from the dvd
) the actress who had played in the movie from 1948, Wei Wei
, invited at the premiere of the new film; now in her old ages she has kept her beauties, and the distinction of her scenic presence.
Labels: Shuesik, Spring in a Small Town, Tian