Documentary - Four Springs

This month the Chinese Visual Festival is screening some of the very best of Chinese language cinema across the UK. Coming to BFI Southbank in London and Summerhall in Edinburgh, Tony Cross watched the documentary Four Springs...

Four Springs is a documentary about a family’s day-to-day life in a remote town in Guizhou. If that is the sort of thing that makes you tut and go off and find a touch more fun sounding to do, then you do that. But you will miss out on something special.

Yes, this is mostly the gentle story of the director’s (Lu Quigyi) Mum and Dad but there is a depth to it too. It’s a story about love, about time, about grief and loss and about family. At times it is sweet. Lu Quigyi’s Ma seems like a lovely woman full of laughter and lessons, but there are darker moments too.

These mostly revolve around Lu Quigyi’s sister, Wei, who is seriously ill. The scenes in the hospital are both incredibly intimate and deeply moving. It reminded me that when I read Helen Parr’s book, ‘Our Boys: The Story of a Paratrooper’ I was moved to find out that wounded and dying men on the battlefield do cry out for their mothers. And there’s some of that here. It’s heart-breaking.

The film also looks great. There’s a lot of fantastic looking food being prepared and cooked. There are visits to the countryside, which are exquisitely shot. Lu Quigyi’s parents spend a lot of time walking into the countryside to collect food, fuel and to visit graves. In all weathers. The Chinese countryside, whilst not a rural paradise still looks like a it comes from a little in the past, with animals ploughing paddy fields. But that’s not to fool yourself that this is some backward country. Lu Quigyi’s Dad is always on his computer listening to music or putting together videos from the past. Everyone has mobile phones. There is a fascinating fusing of old and new.

Plants and animals feature a lot. We see, each spring, the swallows coming back to their nest at the house. Dad gets a beehive and we watch him put it together. Ma talks about plants and their smells. Meat is smoked and leaves are dry. Ma makes medicines. There’s a regularity and a rhythm that perhaps in a more urban, western world we have lost. Or perhaps I am making too much of this stuff.

There’s lots of singing and music. Everyone sings. Lu Quigyi’s Dad plays music, including the saw. There’s a moment where we hear Wei singing a song about loss that manages to be both sweet and sad at the same time.

So, I loved this film. I think it would be worth seeing on a big screen somewhere. Alas, like many a documentary, especially one with subtitles it will probably slip through the British cinemas like a ghost ship.

Four Springs is showing, in partnership with Fortissimo Films, as part of the Chinese Visual Festival at the following venues:

25th January - Summerhall, Edinburgh
26th January - BFI Southbank, London

Find out more and book tickets for both screenings HERE

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

Image - Chinese Visual Festival

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