Secrets of a Soul, directed by G.W. Pabst. This psychoanalytical movie has great fun with the dream imagery. But it has what now seems to be a fairly pat denouement as to the cause of the anonymous hero's sudden fear of knives and near-compulsion to kill his wife. What doesn't seem to be so pat is the extraordinary ambiguity of the epilogue. It seems quite plausible that the child was sired by the wife's cousin! I strongly suspect that the material escaped someone's artistic control.
Back to 1942. This Chinese movie is extremely well photographed and staged. It unabashedly appeals to the sentiment. A quick review of critics complains that the characters are not engaging enough to make them want to invest any sympathy. I thought the characters were rather well defined by what they did. I have the uneasy feeling that some of the disengagement is not because the movie failed to draw characters, but because of the race of the characters was not engaging.
The plot in one sense is pretty straightforward. A village in Henan, a province of thirty million, is tormented by drought, swarms of locusts and Japanese invaders. The central government, corrupt, ineffective and genuinely beset by the trials of war, not only does not provide aid but tries to extract grain for the war effort! In this setting, an entire village takes to the road to Shaanxi province, traditional refuge in crisis. The movie focuses on the interactions of the villagers, particularly two families. The standard estimate is that three million of ten million refugees perished. The action is appropriately grim.
Intercut with this are brief scenes of the wider political and military setting, such as a scene where a Japanese general orders that the refugees be fed by the Japanese military, to undercut the nationalist government. Generalissimo Jiang Kai-shek is a major figure. He is treated with considerable ambiguity in one way. But in another he is presented as a highly charismatic and thoughtful, possibly even tormented, leader. I think they increased his physical stature as a visual cue. In Hollywood terms this is highly positive and this movie is pretty Hollywood even if it is Chinese. In particular, the exigencies of war are condemned by (different) characters within the movie as insufficient for the nationalist government's indifference and
as a tragic necessity.
This is such a lavish production that it is likely that the making of the film was approved from the top. Thus, the ambiguity about Jiang and his failures to provide for the people may signify a reaching out to the Taiwan government on a cultural level, desirable in the face of Obama's pivot to Asia. This is particularly true as the central leaders seek more and more to turn China capitalist. Although this would benefit them personally, making many billionaires, it would mean the central government, like the Nationalists, would have to put the war for national survival ahead of the local popular welfare. A discreet apologia disguised as history could seem useful.
But, is the movie is to be read as an attack on Mao, with this movie's Jiang's charisma an oblique invocation? The famines of 1958-1960 are universally attributed to political policy, to the point where no one seems to know the Yellow River flooded or one year 60% of China was in drought. On the other hand, noticing the mere existence of such a noncommunist famine could be interpreted as context?