Spring in a Small Town (1948) a piercingly poignant study of adulterous desire, was once voted the greatest Chinese film ever made.
Regarded as the finest work from the first great era of Chinese filmmaking, Fei Mu’s quiet, piercingly poignant study of adulterous desire and guilt-ridden despair is a remarkable film.
After eight years of marriage to Liyan – once rich but now sickly and almost suicidally apathetic following a long, ruinous war – Yuwen does little except deliver his daily medication. A surprise visit from Liyan’s friend Zhang re-energises the household, the invalid included. Liyan’s young sister is not alone in her excitement over the much-travelled guest; Yuwen knew him before her marriage… Eliciting a great performance from Wei Wei as Yuwen, whose wistful voiceover offers insights into her conflicted feelings, Fei creates a tense, sensual chamberwork steeped in suspicion and suppressed longing, deep resentments and half-spoken truths.
The deft use of locations, dissolves and camera movements makes for a fraught, febrile mood of hesitant passion, entrapment and ennui; sophisticated cinematically and psychologically, the film eschews sentimentality for something far more beguiling.