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Sacrificed Youth was recently shown at Berkeley,California's Pacific Film Archive in a somewhat worn 35mm print, as part of a series of movies curated by visiting Chinese artist Yang Fudong, this work from 1985 by a woman director, about the Cultural Revolution era, was one that he says influenced him. It is part of a cycle of stories about young people from the cities being forced to labor in the countryside with peasants, how they dealt with their struggle, and how they often came to look back on this time as a moving experience in their lives, from which they learned as they adapted to the customs of the rural communities. Several others are Joan Chen's Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl, and the adaptation of the book Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress. These stories risk the danger of romanticizing the repressive side of Mao's policies as when one is young (and often as in Sacrificed Youth there is a romance involved) one tends to sentimentalize such a formative time later (I am reminded of my mother telling me that the years she spent in Italy in the mid 1930's, going into the country with other girls her age as part of a Fascist youth group, were among the happiest in her life.) It's interesting in this regard that Sacrificed Youth was released during the last years of the East German government, under the title Das War Eine Schoene Zeit (That Was A Beautiful Time.) Nonetheless director Zhang Nuanxin achieves a high degree of realism, The language of the Dai people in the southwestern Yunnan area- they are related to Laotians- is used, with a Mandarin subtitle translation.Some surprising details, such as the heroine being told she will be better liked if she dresses up and tries to make herself pretty, rather than staying in her drab pant suit, ring true. The cinematographers capture beautiful images of the misty landscape,and the light in the afternoon on an oxcart slowly moving down a road, even if a couple of times they fall back on distracting zooms. This is a film worth checking out, and it makes one curious to see more by this director.
She gets from the city to the jungle village. She discovers her beauty, her appeal towards men and her potential to heal. But paradises can't last forever... Great images (as dark as her ignorance), great sounds (leading you to a half-trance) and a refreshing coarse camera-work (to imitate real-life perception).
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