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Yang Fudong's Cinematic Influences

Saturday, September 14, 2013
6:30 p.m. Spring in a Small Town
Fei Mu (China, 1948)

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(Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun). Named a formative influence by filmmakers like Wong Kar-wai and Zhang Yimou, voted the Best Chinese Film of All Time in a poll of Chinese critics, and with a visual panache often compared to Ophuls, Antonioni, and Welles, Fei Mu’s 1948 gem possesses a melancholy beauty all its own. In the ruins of a bombed-out countryside estate, a sorrowful husband lives in the past, while his beautiful wife pines for something, anything, to change. “I don’t have the courage to die,” she whispers in the film’s mesmeric, noirish voice-over, “and he doesn’t have the courage to live.” As in any noir, the arrival of an outsider—one known to both husband and wife—may change everything. Made in 1948, a year before Mao’s People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, the film’s beauty exists both in time—many elements seem drawn from Hollywood noir and the glory years of Shanghai cinema, while its languorous tracking shots rival the best of Ophuls—and completely, utterly out of time, with a romantic splendor and a remarkable sense of melancholy capable of surprising even the most jaded contemporary filmgoer. The fact that the film was quickly hidden away after its debut, condemned as counter-revolutionary and embodying “petit-bourgeois decadence,” merely adds to the film’s mystique; it was finally rediscovered in the 1980s.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Li Tian Ji. Photographed by Li Sheng Wei. With Wei Wei, Shi Yu, Li Wei, Zhang Hong Mei. (85 mins, In Chinese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From China Film Archive)