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China, 1956 (MIFF 1958, Programme 43)

Director: Sang Fu

Sang-Hu, who made the beautiful Chinese opera film Liang Sha &ndash: Po and Chu Ying &ndash: Tai (shown at the 1956 Melbourne Film Festival) in his latest production, New Year Sacrifice, gives us a drama set around 1911; the unhappy life of a Chinese woman sold in marriage.

Based on a short story by a famous Chinese author, the central figure is a young woman so despised that she has no name of her own but is always called "Hsian &ndash:lin's wife". Shortly after her husband dies, her mother-in-law wants to marry her off again because the betrothal money is needed. She runs away but her hideout is discovered and she is married to a woodcutter. He is a gentle, good man, and in time a deep affection springs up between them. But their happiness is short-lived. Her infant son is killed by a wolf and her husband sickens and dies. She is destitute.

A Mrs. Lu, moved to pity, takes in the woman. But "Hsiang &ndash: lin's wife" is no longer the active, bustling worker of old. When New Year comes round, Mr. Lu forbids her to take part in the preparation of the sacrifice, lest her misfortune contaminate the ceremony . . .

Slow, richly coloured, the film's mood of poetic melancholy is admirably sustained and its characters subtly delineated. The sad, interior faces of the people and the apt, uncluttered decors often suggest the influence of Japanese filmmakers. Although the director lacks their professional flair, his film's feeling is pure and eloquent.

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