Wutai Jiemei (Stage Sisters). 1964. China. Directed by Xie Jin. In Mandarin; English subtitles. 112 min.
Screenplay by Xie Jin, Xu Jin, Wang Lingu. With Xie Fang, Cao Yindi. A Sirkian melodrama of the highest order—put to the service of Maoist principles of loyalty and sacrifice—Stage Sisters follows 20 years in the lives, loves, and artistry of an itinerant Chinese opera company during the 1930s and 1940s. The film’s titular stage “sisters” are, in fact, friends who take divergent paths, one suffering nobly in the provinces while the other is corrupted by the sinful pleasures of the Shanghai nightlife. Although Xie Jin, with his exquisite sense of color and fluid camerawork, showed the makings of a wonderful film stylist, party officials condemned Stage Sisters for advocating “the reconciliation of social classes,” and he soon became a victim of the Cultural Revolution, his parents both suicides and his career derailed by a 10-year “rehabilitation” in a forced-labor camp and then under house arrest. He was permitted to make films again in the mid-1970s under strict censorship control, but was attacked by some critics as a Party hack. Only recently has a newer generation of Chinese filmmakers, including Jia Zhangke, shown a renewed appreciation for his work. Restored in 4K by Shanghai International Film Festival, in collaboration with Shanghai Film Group, Shanghai Film Technology Co., and the Shanghai Film Museum, with funding by Jaeger-LeCoutre.