Song of the Fishermen (1934)
An occasionally beautiful film about a poor fishing family's struggle with poverty and social injustice, Song of the Fisherman was the first social-realist Chinese film.
A fisherman's wife gives birth to twins, a boy (Monkey) and a girl (Kitty), prompting the husband to take a dangerous job at sea to try to make more money. He is never heard from again. To support her family, the wife takes a job for a rich family as nanny for their newborn son, whom she must put above her own children. Indeed, she is forced to leave her sick son one night to care for the rich baby and her child suffers permanent physical and developmental delays as a result.
All three children form a long-lasting friendship even though they are from different classes. The film follows the ever-increasing struggles of the poor family as the livelihood of small fishermen is overtaking by large-scale fishing operations, the very industry the rich boy's family runs. But the rich family has (self-imposed) problems of its own.
It's an uneven picture with moments of poignancy, but I got the sense that pieces of it were missing. The mother was blind all of a sudden, for instance, and I don't remember actually seeing anything about what happened to the father.
At any rate, Wang Renmei was positively luminous as Kitty.
Midnight Madness (1928)
I kept recasting this film with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, but it really wasn't necessary. Perhaps I wasn't expecting much after looking this picture up on IMDb and reading the festival program, but I really dug Midnight Madness.
Norma (Jacqueline Logan) is a secretary who lives with her drunken father behind a shooting gallery and has her eyes on her bachelor boss. The boss is only in it for the fun, however, and encourages her to date up a rich South African client, Michael Bream (Clive Brook) so he can learn the location of Bream's new diamond mine. Bream is actually very fond of Norma and on their first date, asks her to marry him. She wonders whether it all isn't a little sudden, but Bream is an "I know you better than you know yourself" kind of guy and persists. Why not, thinks Norma, it's got to be better than the shooting gallery, so they marry.
But first they stop by the office so Norma can give her former boss the news. The boss is baffled, but amused and not a little delighted that she'll be so close to the diamonds. She tells him to forget it, because she's found a meal ticket and she's never going to go second class again. Unfortunately, her new husband has heard this exchange and decides to teach her a lesson by pretending he's not as rich as she thought.
The two of them wind up in a shack at the new claim in the African veldt, with Norma doing a great job of being increasingly less enthused. Bream is equally effective at making it worse for her, knowing that deep down she really cares for him. Their mutual struggle is pretty effective. You kind of get his point that it would be better if she loved him for himself and not his money, but you also get her city girl's dislike of wilderness and giant bugs. Things happen that cause the two to get genuinely closer and everyone does eventually live happily (and poshly) ever after.
Plus there's a lion.
The Parson's Widow (1920)
The Parson's Widow is Carl Theodor Dreyer's comic tale of Sofren Ivarson (Einar Rod), a young seminarian recently elected by the members of a small village to be its vicar after theirs has died. It's kind of a good news/bad news situation: on the one hand, having landed a job, the parson is now eligible to marry his girlfriend, Mari (Greta Almroth); on the other hand, this is the kind of town that expects its new paster to marry the widow of its last pastor.
In this case, the widow is Dame Margarete (Hildur Carlberg), a seventy-something presence who has married the new pastor a couple times before. The prospect is not appealing to young Sofren (nor Mari), but after spending time with the widow (and eating her food, drinking her schnaps, and letting her mend his clothes) the man decides to marry her after all. She is only interested in maintaining her home and lifestyle. There is temporary difficulty in convincing Mari that this is a good scheme, but the two kids decide to wait it out. After all, the widow will die some day (with any luck, soon) and Sofren will inherit her many possessions, so they pretend in the short term that Mari is Sofren's sister.
The rest of the film deals with the morality of the situation with great effect. Everyone comes to love Dame Margarete, chiefly because Hildur Carlberg is terrifically good, but also because Sofren overcomes his weaknesses in such a charming way.
I absolutely loved this picture. It was funny, sweet, and sad in all the right proportions.