Spring in a Small Town is not a film I’d heard of before the 1001 Movies list brought it to my attention.
This isn’t surprising, for any number of reasons. In the first place, I’m not really a fan of subtitled or translated films. I’ll watch them only after critics have unanimously anointed them great, and then, as in this case, seventy years later. Chinese films fare no better than French flicks in this case (unless there’s nudity and sex… I’ll always give nudity and sex a chance).
But there’s more to it than that. Spring in a Small Town is a film that, by not being expressly political was essentially blacklisted after the China’s communist revolution, and has really only been rehabilitated today.
It’s even pretty hard to find online (well, it’s easy to find if you speak Chinese, but subtitled versions are a different story); your best bet if you can’t get hold of a deluxe DVD collection is probably the subtitled version on YouTube.
All of this conspires to hide a true gem from popular consumption. This is a film whose sensibilities are more likely to be found in a French film from the sixties or seventies (with the requisite amount of nudity) than anything contemporary Hollywood was churning out.
I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll just give you the setup. A woman, the main character lives an unhappy life with her ailing husband. The man she was hoping to marry before the war turns up, not to visit her, but to visit her husband who is an old friend of his. And then they’re off and running, not flinching nor turning it into the kind of infantile comedy or melodrama that Hollywood would create.
Awesomely, Wei Wei, the actress who played the leading role, is still alive today and has been recently active. We salute her!
Gustavo Bondoni has recently launched a collection of linked literary stories that create a single narrative. The book is called Love and Death, and you can have a look at it here.