Springtime in a Small Town (1948)

Springtime in a small town
Directed by Mu Fei
Written by Tianji Li
(number 427)

I went into this movie knowing nothing at all…

Made just three years after the end of World War 2, the most striking thing immediately about this film is the traditional Chinese homestead contrasted with the destruction of the city and the outside walls of the same homestead. Knowing that the half ruined brick walls are most likely not sets made for the movie is pretty intense. The landscape is beautiful when they go for walks and show the countryside. It’s all filmed in such a lovely way.

For a love story, it’s remarkably chaste. Part of that is the era the movie was made and released in, but I think a larger part is that the story is about yearning, about what you can’t have. If the lovers give in to their desires it’s less powerful, and both are prevented from doing this by their sense of duty, honour and decorum. There’s an incredibly powerful scene where Yuwen does try to give in, and for a moment Zhichen also.. but the overwhelming sadness between them stops him. He pulls her off him, pushes her away, eventually has to leave the room and lock her in, but her passion is such that she punches through a window and cuts her hand open.

Later there’s a sweetly yearning scene of Liyan exploring Yuwen’s room, sniffing her powders and so on. Not in a creepy or disrespectful way, but to understand more about who she is. It’s hard to imagine this scene being done right in almost any other movie.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely, all of them. I feel for Liyan, stuck inside and convinced he’s dying of TB, still loving his wife but totally wrapped up in himself. Then Yuwen obviously, I adore her. That kind of dutiful wife holding an old flame in her heart and unwilling to do anything drastic. Xiu is adorable, and although she is absolutely the annoying teenage girl trope she’s played really endearingly. Then of course dashing Zhichen who is stylish, cute, adorable and absolutely torn in his loyalties.

Bechdel test: Yes, Yuwen and Xiu exchange several little bits of dialogue. They are shown to dote on each other, with Yuwen looking after and indulging Xiu and Xiu ensuring Yuwen is included.

Best line:
Spring is as changeable as a child’s mood

Liyan: I had no idea you knew her before… if she’d married you, she would have been better off.

Yuwen: there was a time when you weren’t so good to me either. Later, good or not, it felt as good. I couldn’t tell the difference.

Liyan: please stay just one more day at least. Seeing her so happy makes me happy too.

State of Mind: I am blown away with how much I loved this movie. It was moving, beautiful and ultimately brought a tear to my eye. True, the big problem between the characters could pretty easily be solved with a consensual polyamorous relationship, but given the time and the country this is from that was never going to be a solution. I loved it, shed a tear at the end, and will definitely be watching it again. I watched it over several days and it was still completely engrossing. Two thumbs up!

Watched movie count


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