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Love and Duty

[…] We discover a silent film with an incredible narrative quality and a virtuosic performance of the main actress, who plays the same character at three different ages.

[…] «Love and Duty» is an epic fresco that follows the protagonist of a love affair, and then of a family affair, through four decades, portraying, in the end, a moralistic and patriarchal society.

Who was the first movie-star to impassion millions of people with her tragic destiny? Whose story had triggered an avalanche of gossip or had become a “vamp” on the front pages of newspapers? Marylin Monroe? Grace Kelly? Greta Garbo? Judy Garland? It was the Chinese actress, Ruan Lingyu, who was a victim of suicide at the age of twenty-four. With _Love and Duty_ by Bu Wancang (1931), which screened at Filmpodium in Zürich as part of the Stummfilmfestival curated by Martin Girod, we discover why this actress was so popular, and why the China of 1935 experienced «the most spectacular funeral of the century» (_New York Times_). Lingyu’s funeral procession was three miles long, and there were reports of three women committing suicide during the procession. We discover a silent film with an incredible narrative quality and a virtuosic performance of the main actress, who plays the same character at three different ages. The stereotypical character of the figures, common among silent films, leaves room for a significant degree of nuances, which keep the almost three-hour long movie interesting. _Love and Duty_ is an epic fresco that follows the protagonist of a love affair, and then of a family affair, through four decades, portraying, in the end, a moralistic and patriarchal society. This gives the film a critical potential about the rigidity of Chinese social rules – to this respect, one may find many parallels in the recent Jia Zhang-ke’s masterpiece, _Mountains May Depart_.

Lastly, in the pleasant theatre of Filmpodium, we discovered an artist of exceptional talent and endurance, the pianist Joachim Bärenz, who came to Zürich from Essen to accompany the film for three hours without interruption. Even for those who are accustomed to silent films, this rare film – which was rediscovered almost casually, thanks to a surviving copy that emerged in Uruguay (and was held for a long time in the Taiwanese Embassy in Geneva) – is a unique pearl.

Here we propose the first 38 minutes of the movie.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: April 24, 2016

Love and Duty | Film | Bu Wancang | CHN 1931 | 152’ | Stummfilmfestival 2016 | Piano: Joachim Bärenz | Filmpodium Zürich

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