Director Xie Fei, also known as one of the “fourth generation” filmmakers, presents this touching tale of a woman suffering as she tries to carve out a life for herself in the “Women From the Lake of Scented Souls”. The film is set in a small village in China, where it starts off with a scene of the boat moving in the river. The boat is shot at an angle as if the audiences are also part of the movie, which successfully grabs the audiences’ attention.
The story is based on a novel written by Zhou Daxin, which revolves around a middle-aged woman Xiang who operates this small traditional pa-and ma sesame oil factory. Xiang is a smart and hard working woman who has an unfortunate and pitiful life. She was sold to her handicapped husband Que at the age of 7 and married him when she was 13; they have a mentally challenged son Dunzi, and a younger daughter. Her husband is a lazy and abusive alcoholic, who leaves all the work to Xiang. Xiang’s sesame oil is the finest in the region, which it even attracts the Japanese investors’ eye. Xiang explains how the specialness of her sesame oil must be because of the mysterious story of the two girls who drowned themselves love.
Xiang’s new found wealth raises her social status in the village, which enables her to find a wife for her mentally handicapped son. With her new influence in power, Xiang pressures Huanhuan’s famiy into marrying her son. In the beginning, Huanhuan’s family refuses to marriage, but because of their debt, Xiang paid 15000$ as dowry to their family. Xiang also casted away Huanhuan’s secret lover who happens to be working for Xiang by offering the boy to work in the city and making him promise not to marry any girl in the village these 2 years.
Huanhuan’s marriage with Dunzi is just like a repetition of Xiang’s unfortunate tragedy, which fated to fail. Although Xiang’s mistake may make the audience feel less pity of her own situation but it does emphasize on how she is also a victim. Xiang’s only happiness in the movie is her affair with Ren, the transportation man, who is actually the real father of Xiang’s daughter. However, Xiang’s happiness does not last long as Ren suggested to break up their secret relationship because “they are pasted middle aged”. To
Xiang, Ren acts not only as a secret lover, but more like her husband. She would kiss him first, and even talk to him for advices about Dunzi’s marriage, and because her feelings are so deep towards him and even suggested on divorcing her husband for him. Xiang and Huanhuan in this movie both walk the same fate.
They both came from a poor family, and were sold to handicapped husbands. In the beginning, they had their own lovers, but were both dumped in the end. Huanhuan’s husband Dunzi is mentally challenged he treats as a doll, biting her, chocking her, scratching her, as for Xiang’s husband he is abusive and always drunk. She is just his money and sex machine. In addition, he never cares for the better of their children, or bothers to buy presents to her. Both these two women are tough and hard working, unlike the mysterious history of the scented lake, which tried to solve solutions by killing herself. “Women From the Lake of Scented Souls” is an enjoyably movie that unfolds the secretive life of rural China.
Director Xie Fei has filled the movie with scenes of countryside beauty, just like the one where Huanhuan and Xiang have a heart to heart talk by the river, and Xiang finally realizes what path she is forcing Huanhuan to take when Huanhuan saw her affair she said to Xiang “ I understand that mother has her own problems”. The film starts and ends by the misty soul scented lake. After breaking up with Ren, Xiang is left crying in the moonlight by the lake as she once did 30 years ago when she married her husband. This is such a powerful image, as it quiets us down, and fills overwhelming sadness and sympathy towards her situation as Xiang crys silently by the bank side.
In general, this movie is a great success, as it was awarded the Golden Bear award in 1993 in Berlin film festival. The female characters in this film, under director Xie Fei guidance, displays Chinese women’s hopelessness in life. It leaves the audience filled with sorrow and sympathy towards the women characters. However, some may not be able to understand the possibility of such misery in life, because of our culture and time difference, which just proves again the success of this film, as it brings the audience thinking and feeling emotionally towards the film.