"The Composer": a moving portrayal of wartime separation

China Plus Published: 2019-05-15 16:18:10
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A still from the film "The Composer", which is due to hit Chinese cinemas on May 17. [Photo: China Plus]

A still from the film "The Composer", which is due to hit Chinese cinemas on May 17. [Photo: China Plus]

Screenings of the first China-Kazakh co-production, "The Composer", were recently held in Beijing ahead of the film's official release during the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations.

The film follows the life story of Xian Xinghai, one of China's greatest composers, during his later years when he was unable to return to China from the Soviet Union during the war against Nazi Germany.

The film makes impressive use of parallel storytelling. Scenes from life back in his hometown, where his wife and young daughter waited for him year after year, were intertwined with images of the musician stranded in Almaty, where he was sheltered by a widow and her daughter. It was also used effectively in a scene where we see the homesick composer teaching the girl in his new home in Almaty how to sing a Chinese folk song as his wife teaches their daughter the same song back in their hometown. This storytelling technique effectively highlights the separation of the two families as a result of the war.

It was in Almaty under the burden of poverty, illness, and separation that Xian would compose his most famous works, including "Liberation of the Nation", "Sacred War", and "Red All Over the River".

The film's emotionally-evocative story is a key to its success, especially when it comes to the portrayal of the two young girls, portrayed by young actresses from Kazakhstan and China. The young Kazakh girl doesn't know that her father has died. Each day, she goes to the place where her father bid them farewell and waits for his return. Her eyes are at times filled with hope, while at others she looks as if she believes all hope is lost. Her acting also reaches a peak when, after being bullied by her schoolmates, she unleash her anger in front of her mother. Her expression of desperation in that moment is heartbreaking for the audience.

Xian never did get the chance to return to China, dying at the age of 40 in Moscow where he was receiving medical treatment. But he remains a household name in China, although his life story is not well known. The actor Hu Jun, who plays Xian, didn't know much about the composer before he took on the lead role in the film. "I was totally unaware of how Xian spent his final years overseas. As soon as I read the script, I felt so touched, and quite honored to portray one of China's greatest composers," said Hu.

Directed by Xirzat Yahup, "The Composer" gathered veteran actors and actresses from Kazakhstan and China for a co-production that shines new light on the history of one of China's great composers from the wartime period.

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