There is a certain restraint that seems common to Chinese cinema. Where characters live at an emotional detachment with each other and passions are inhibited for the sake of duty and respectability. It is this suppression that means that not everyone lives happily ever after and sometimes an ending and a resolution are enough.
This certainly holds true for Springtime in a Small Town. Basically a remake of a favourite post-war Chinese film, Springtime follows a man who returns home after his travails and finds his best friend married to the girl he left behind. There is regret and desire all played out very subtly where flares of overt action and emotion are rare yet appropriate set in a very picturesque backdrop.
The very immutability and languor of the surrounding background lends weight to values of tradition over the whims of the human heart. In fact the director’s use of the scenery suggests a certain interior aesthetic and claustraphobia akin to adaptations of stage plays such that even a boat travelling through the water reminded me more of a prop on wheels.
The actors all seem to float from scene to scene of which they all maintain a certain reserve but for the little sister who does display an exhuberance and animation that is a sharp contrast to rest of the cast. The subtlety of the performances are quite sublime and merely add to the almost portrait like images of the film.
While a beautiful film, Springtime in a Small Town is not one for everyone’s tastes. It’s narrative is quite slow and the performances subtle by the very nature of the film. Once part that, however, there is a depth to the film that can be quite rewarding.