One of the greatest mysteries of the Cannes Film Festival is that the competition for the Palme d’Or every year throws up a couple of truly average films. Sometimes, even, truly awful films (Wim Wenders’ The Palmermo Shooting, anyone?).
Given the scramble, the honour, of being selected on the 20-‘strong’ shortlist, it’s an enigma how any title chosen can be anything other than… well, good.
Chinese entry Chun Feng Chen Zui De Ye Wan (Spring Fever) is one such conundrum. By no means awful, it is, however, increasingly tedious as the two-hour running time spins out, the emotional desolation and devastation on display rarely punching out of the desaturated screen to jolt viewers’ hearts.
Directed by Lou Ye and set in a grainy, grimy-looking Nanjing in 2009, it delves into the twisted limbs and hearts of five people – a husband and wife, the husband’s gay lover, the man commissioned to spy on them and this peeping tom’s wife.
There are moments of beauty and happiness along the way, but for the most part this is a not-so-merry-go-round of love and lust, the participants howling at one another and flailing weak fists against hitching chests.
Some of it hits home, raw and emotional. Other sequences (a karaoke scene, moony shots of Nanjing) thrum with a tender melancholy. Most of it, though, is boring, nonsensical and off-puttingly convinced of its own worth, with even the rough n tumble fuck scenes sure to arouse yawns.
Spring Fever is nowhere near as bad as Lou Ye’s inscrutable 2003 competition entry Purple Butterfly, perhaps, but it’s also nowhere near as good as his acclaimed Suzhou River (2000), a far more engaging film concerned with the same themes – identity, desire, loneliness.
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