Xie Jin’s masterpiece was not shown in China until almost two decades after it was made. Banned for its depiction of old China, the film is in many ways the summation of the cinematic style that began in Shanghai in the 1930s: brilliant use of space, powerful camera movement, and a story that follows the conflicting, contradictory fates of its protagonists. Two Stage Sisters is also a perceptive meditation on Chinese opera itself, chronicling changes in style and their relation to shifting notions of the role of art.
Synopsis: In 1935, a runaway bride hides out with a traveling Xiaoxing opera troupe; after allowing her to stay, the company trains her and soon she is taking on the dan roles while her “sister” takes on the sheng male roles. Soon the two move on to Shanghai, where they become hailed as the “queens” of the opera world. But as they learn, such success comes with a price, and each sister must decide how to manage her art and her life—as China navigates through WWII, then the Civil War, and finally the victory of the Communist Party.
Two Stage Sisters, 舞台姐妹, 1964
Director: Xie Jin, PRC, 114 min.
Mandarin, with English subtitles.
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Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. From 1988 to 2012, he was the Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Director of the New York Film Festival. A frequent lecturer on film internationally, in 2014-2015 he was a Visiting Professor in Brazilian Studies at Princeton, and in 2015-2016 a Visiting Professor in Film Studies at Harvard. In May, 2016, he was the recipient of the “Cathedra Bergman” at the UNAM in Mexico City, He currently hosts WNET/Channel 13’s weekly Reel 13.