The Love Songs Of Tiedan

The Love Songs Of Tiedan


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

With its tonal shifts and unique narrative slippages, The Love Songs Of Tiedan (Mei Jie), Hao Jie’s follow-up to his 2010 debut feature Single Man, is a decidedly singular effort. A tale of love, memories and music concerned with the insidious and prolonged after-effects of China’s Cultural Revolution, it’s an on-paper melodrama imbued with musical energy and comical mischief by an excellent ensemble cast.

Love Songs is a period film, though its setting – Hao’s native Shanxi Province, in China’s rural north west – appears to be so remote that we need on-screen text to establish its initial timeframe to be the mid-1960s. The film recounts how, as a result of the Cultural Revolution, the region’s folk-singing tradition known as Er-ren-tai was banned. Consequently, the tiny village in which the film takes place loses local beauty May (Ye Lan). A decade or so later, however, she reappears with her three daughters, stunning Tiedan (Feng Si), who as a six-old-year had an adoring crush on the woman.

Co-scripted by Hao with Ge Xia, the film gathers pace in contradictory fashion: on the one hand its scenes come thick and fast, establishing a sense of community and depicting dramatic non-events as remembered in fragmentary, nostalgic fashion while on the other hand, it engages increasingly with the fallout of the Cultural Revolution and accumulates an argument against power and corruption, both of which are seen to be gendered.

Indeed, the political backdrop – Maoism and the lip service it paid to communal inclusivity – conditions the central gender battles at work in the film. In one key scene, for instance, Tiedan addresses a room of performers before a very deliberately placed line of photographs that link Mao to Marx by way of Engels, Lenin and, yes, Stalin; the implied link between Maoism and performativity is subtly and effectively worked. Notions of performance continue. Tiedan’s sexual orientation is made explicitly fluid – and the revelation and presentation of such fluidity is welcomingly matter-of-fact. In the film’s most tender juxtaposition, for instance, Tiedan lies in bed with another male while remembering his childhood devotion to May; his inner torment stems from oppressive social prejudices, but the film’s sensitive treatment is a casual prod in present-day authorities’ sides.

Complementing such motifs are frequent scenes in which characters clothe and unclothe themselves as well as one another – a fitting metaphor for a film on gender, censorship and ageing that is also disguised as an outrageous, episodic, throwaway musical. Its central emphasis upon folk traditions and how changing technologies can affect communal customs, meanwhile, enhance the film’s deceptively rich thematic fabric. Serious in intention but comic in delivery, The Love Songs Of Tiedan is a refreshingly unfussy reminder that serious art need not be downbeat.

Reviewed on: 13 Apr 2013
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The film recounts a romantic obsession that spans several decades. In a poor Shanxi Province village, six-year old Tiedan falls in love with May, the beautiful neighbor who practices a traditional form of singing, Er-ren-tai, and this love will never die.

Director: Hie Jao

Writer: Hie Jao

Starring: Feng Si, Ye Lan, Feng Yun, Li Yuqin, Hao Guoying, Du Huanrong, Ge Xia

Year: 2012

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: China

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