XL Popcorn – Spring in a Small Town

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 618/1007
Title: Spring in a Small Town
Director: Fei Mu
Year: 1948
Country: China

I don’t know if this is a bad thing to say, but this film felt incredibly British. I know that love and a lot of the stories that spin off from that are universal, but there is something about the restraint, self-denial and the underlying erotic tension that made me think, “wow these could be British people.”

In a nutshell, Spring in a Small Town is a film where we see a couple who are just going through the motions in their marriage being challenged by the arrival of the husband’s childhood friend… who also happens to be the wife’s childhood sweetheart. Add into the mix that the couple life with the husband’s sister who has just turned 16 and you can see where this film is going.

I’m going to be stopping here as it feels like I am criticising the film. Knowing exactly where the beats are going to land isn’t always a bad thing – otherwise how would you explain the popularity of sketch shows. What this film does well is the atmosphere; something where knowing the plot thread helps.

In this film there are three main through-lines of atmosphere: the childish crush between the sister and the guest, the erotic tension between the wife and the guest and the feelings of defeat that comes out in any scene with the husband. Much like different pressure fronts on a weather forecast – there are sparks that flew when these different in-film atmospheres collided. It’s not a huge film (although some people call this the best Chinese film of all time… agree to disagree) but it’s a very well done character study that could easily have been a play.

It’s weird to think that whilst the events of A City of Sadness were occurring in Taiwan, back on mainland China Spring in a Small Town was being shot. I know that the world keeps turning and everything, but watching these films back to back just amplified that for me.

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