“Time flies. Life is so short, isn’t it?” a cheerful relative remarks lamenting that the family only comes back together once a year during the first of Lu Qingyi’s Four Springs (四个春天, Sì gè Chūntiān). Rather than follow his family through four seasons for one year, Lu Qingyi observes his ageing parents at yearly intervals as time both moves on and doesn’t delivering joy and sadness in equal measure.
Beginning in the spring of 2013, Lu Qingyi returns home to the remote small town of Dushan where his parents have lived for decades. The family comes together again, if only briefly, to ring in the New Year much as they always have. During the second New Year, Qingyi is joined by his sister Qingwei but there is sadness on the horizon as we discover she is coping with serious illness though the family once again celebrate joyously recalling the past more than dwelling on the future. Subsequent reunions are born both of joy and sorrow as family illnesses take hold, bringing people back together again if only to unite them in sadness and anxiety. Yet life, as always, rolls on just the same.
Briefly including shots of himself, Qingwei focusses on the figures of his parents – retired teacher Yunkun and mother Guixian. Though they must have lived through some turbulent times, the couple are blissfully happy in each other’s company and used to taking pleasure in the simple things such as the swallows which occasionally nest in their roof, or making a new hive for some migratory bees come to visit. The natural world is very much a part of their existence as they make time for hiking out in the mountains, tending graves and enjoying the scenery singing always as they go.
Music, indeed, seems to be an important part of life in Dushan and song is never far away from the lips of of Qingwei’s parents who find themselves humming folk tunes or stretches of traditional opera. Yunkun makes use of his computer to listen to and edit tracks while the rattling of his wife’s manual sewing machine echoes from the next room. Though many things here are “traditional”, the couple are not so much trapped in the past as happy with what they have. Yunkun has embraced his computer, but a later attempt to introduce the couple to smartphones and teach them to use the WeChat app ends in hilarity as they attempt to process the extreme modernity of instant communication.
Technology is both a privilege and a curse, as the family discover one New Year in being deprived of watching the spring gala thanks to an ill timed power cut which also leaves them inside in the cold but perhaps makes the fireworks a little brighter. As the New Year becomes marked by its absences – the empty chairs and increasing silences, technology also provides a path back to happier times through the home videos filmed in previous years by Qingyi and his father which provide a record of ordinary family life both happy and sad in recalling past springs never to come again.
Time itself becomes a theme as it marches on invisibly. Qingyi’s cheerful parents are thankfully in good health, though his mother wishes they could dance again like they did in the old days and worries what will become of the one left behind when the inevitable happens. Nevertheless, the New Year arrives as it always does, preparations are made, too much food is cooked, the family eats, and sings, and remembers. Lu Qingyi’s Four Springs is a touching evocation of the joys and sorrows of being alive in his loving tribute to his goodhearted parents who have learned to find the tiny happinesses in the every day even in the midst of unbearable sadness.
Four Springs screens as part of the eighth season of Chicago’s Asian Pop-Up Cinema on April 7, 2pm & 5pm, at Heritage Museum of Asian Art, 218 West 26th Street.
Original trailer (English subtitles)