Chinese classic Spring in a Small Town out on BFI Player from 20 June

Fei Mu’s 1948 melodrama, considered by many to be the finest Chinese film ever made, gets a same-day release in cinemas and on the BFI Player.

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 – now restored – is a remarkable rediscovery. It arrives on the BFI Player on 20 June, the same day it’s released in cinemas.

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.

Spring in a Small Town will be available to stream on the BFI Player, on desktop, android devices, iPad and iPhone.

Film notes by Geoff Andrew

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