Xie Fei is a name familiar to moviegoers both in China and abroad. The director was born in Yan'an in 1937 and graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in the 1960s. Today he is a professor at the academy. Xie has only directed nine films during his long career, but they've all been showered with acclaim, both at home and from abroad. His movie Black Snow won the Silver Bear Award for personal achievement at the Berlin Film Festival in 1989, where he later won the Golden Bear Award for Sesame Oil Woman in 1992. Three years later his touching movie A Mongolian Tale won Best Director at the Montreal Film Festival. Most of Xie's films have been adapted from famous Chinese novels, helping to offer a deeper insight into Chinese history and culture. The movies focus on the lives of ordinary people who struggle in vain to come to terms with the limitations imposed by the society they live in.
A Girl from Hunan (1986)
The story takes place in a small village west of Hunan Province, which was the birthplace of the late Shen Congwen, the author of the book on which the movie is based. Xie's film does his favorite author no injustice, successfully transferring all the subtlety and brilliance of Xiaoxiao onto the screen. After being married at 12, Xiaoxiao and her even younger husband grow up into a passionless marriage. After several years she finds love with a servant boy and eventually gives birth to a son. As he grows up, Xiaoxiao takes it upon herself to find a suitable match for her child, unwittingly bequeathing to him a life that had made her so very unhappy; and thus continues the vicious cycle of archaic social obligations.
Sesame Oil Woman (1993)
This beautifully made movie was adapted from Zhou Daxin's novel The Woman from the Lake of Scented Souls. Xiang Ersao (Siqin Gaowa) is a scheming woman who has grown rich from her sesame mill in a Henan village. However, for all her cunning and wealth she is trapped in an unhappy marriage to a drunken good-for-nothing, while her son is mentally handicapped. She finds escape in an affair with a young worker and marries her son off to a beautiful and kindhearted girl, Huanhuan (Wu Yujuan), through forceful trickery. However, Huanhuan soon discovers her mother-in-law's deceit, leading to a confrontation where Xiang is overcome with guilt at what she has done. Though Huanhuan is given permission to divorce her husband, she chooses to stay with him, knowing that life in an unhappy marriage is preferable to the life of a divorced woman in a rural community. Ultimately the two women are trapped by the constraints of their gender and the inward nature of their community.
A Girl from Hunan and Sesame Oil Woman are both available to buy at stores across town, or can be ordered from www.dangdang.com.
(That's Beijing March 23, 2006)