Two Stage Sisters

dir. Xie Jin

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Two opera singers become entangled in a bitter rivalry over nothing less than the New China itself, in this delightfully bitchy socialist variant on the classic Bette Davis-Joan Crawford melodramas.


Two Stage Sisters was denounced at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution for its glorification of the bourgeoisie, and the charge is not far off the mark: this stunning film noir melodrama by "Seventeen Years" master Xie Jin is a sumptuous treat straight out of the Bette Davis-Joan Crawford playbook. The film follows two (unrelated) country opera singers in a travelling troupe who relocate to Shanghai in the 1940s, where they engage in a bitter rivalry over nothing less than the New China itself: one woman convinces a major theatre to mount a revolutionary model opera, while the other embraces the glamorous trappings of capitalism as provided by her industrialist boyfriend. A scenery-eviscerating performance by Xie Fang, a host of memorable tunes, and an over-the-top (and truly fabulous) final courtroom scene made this a major revelation at last year's (Re)Inventing China series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. "Two Stage Sisters feels like a culmination of the contradictory forces that shaped Communist Chinese cinema up to that point.... Above all, [it] is a story of how art itself is a means for both societal reconciliation and revolution" (Kevin B. Lee, Moving Image Source).