Spring in a Small Town Review

Published: 2021-07-04 18:30:06
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Category: Movies

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The Hong Kong Film awards voted Spring in a Small Town to be “the greatest Chinese film ever made”. What makes this film so special so appealing so riveting? Presenting us a war-devastated China with future dreams and bright promises this film is seen as a political allegory.
This film rejects the pure idea of romanticism. The discussing arises when categorizing the film, is it an aesthetically Chinese film or a modernist work? Or both at the same time? Poetically we can state that is an organic fusion in tradition and modernity. We can certainly appreciate a conservative narrative expressed in genuinely modernist cinematic techniques. The so-called ‘boudoir poems” that first appear in the Tang Dynasty is what much relates the film with the Chinese aesthetics. Fei Mu was known as the ‘poet-director’ because the poems he was using is a traditional folk songs ‘associated with images of women and love, and therefore, with the feminine in language and sentiment’. By contrary, a modernist characteristic is the way the narrative is exposed, being the voice-over of Yuwen (the female protagonist) the source to follow the thread of the story. A clear example of it is the beginning of the film when she describes, from her point of view, herself and her husband saying: ‘We never say more than a couple of words to each other. He says he has tuberculosis, I think he is neurotic. I don’t have the courage to die, and he doesn’t seem to have the courage to live.’ The director is creating a statement from her subjectivity and making the audience enter profoundly to her world. Fei Mu is humanizing the women but at the same time is stylizing feminity. In concordance, he is putting the male, in this case Liyan, in an inferior range with the camera angles that are noticeable lower. This can be seen in Figure 1. Following the same structure Yuwen always appears in front of the camera while his husband is behind like shown in Figure 2. Moreover, in most of the scenes there is a single long take shot in little movement, moving between protagonists laterally, giving them a sense of equality.
A good example of it is the sense shown in Figure 3. An extremely long take shot very rare in that time when you can appreciate all the characters positions and feelings, showing at the same time with its camera’s moves respect between them. Fei Mu wanted to appoint the viewers’ emotions constructing atmospheres through cinematography being always interested in new film techniques. He wanted to move away ‘from theatricality in film, because Chinese films owed a great debt to modern, spoken drama, which was better able to reflect ‘real life’ than the mature kunju and pihuangju forms of Chinese theatre’. Thus, said in other words he avoids theatricality and suspense physiological descriptions to let viewers concentrate on the narrative producing a self-reflexing effect. He also uses flashbacks and flashforwards to obtain this effect of engagement. More over and contrary, Fei Mu is using weapons against the modern tendency to go against the traditional Confucian moral message about duty and property as seen in the last scene of the film. This conservative ending rejects the modern Confucian norms as ‘being repressive and stultifying to the individual’.
Leftist thing the end should be different letting the protagonist left his husband to get and rich her pure love. But we do not really have to focus either is a left or right film but think about it as a film resistance to war. In addition he points out Qing philosophy letting understand that passion and love lead to a kind of enlightenment and understanding. He portraits this ideals at the end when Liyan and Yuwen stand on the wall facing the same direction but as always Yuwen being marginally ahead of her husband. Setting the film before the Japanese-Chinese civil war Fei Mu is saying that now is time for peace and prosperity being immerse in a world of delicate possibilities.

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