Feelings from Mountain and Water (山水情) is essentially an animated ink painting. It is a film about a master of the guqin, an instrument that seems to embody the Chinese landscape, as I have discussed in earlier posts on this blog. The master and pupil are seen in various shan shui (rivers and mountains) settings, painted in a minimal and near-monochrome style. We see the changing of the seasons and hear the sound of blowing wind and running water (there is no dialogue). The camera pans across misty mountains which emerge out of the mist as ink spreads on paper. I have embedded the film above - it only lasts 20 minutes.
Feelings from Mountain and Water was made in Shanghai in 1988 by the renowned Chinese animator Te Wei (1915-2010). His ink wash technique, developed in the late fifties, was based on that of painter Qi Baishi (1864-1957), who was in turn influenced by Bada Shanren (1626 - 1705). There is a fishing scene in Feelings From Mountain and Water that resembles Bada Shanren's Fish and Rocks (1696), a painting I've written about here before and featured today in my regular landscape 'tweet of the day'. Another influence, evident in The Cowboy's Flute (1963), was the painter Li Keran (1907-89). It was soon after the release of this film that the Cultural Revolution brought Te Wei's career to a sudden halt and, as has written in a piece for the BFI site, he was interned in solitary confinement for a year, beaten, deprived of sleep and obliged to pen self-criticisms. He kept himself sane by drawing sketches on the glass pane of a table, erasing them when guards approached. Later he worked on a pig farm with his fellow animator A Da and it was only after Mao's death that they could consider returning to their work.
Feelings from Mountain and Water can now be seen as the culmination of Te Wei's career. In 1989 he was honoured as one of the four outstanding Chinese filmmakers, and yet, as de Wit writes, 'the artist who had survived the Cultural Revolution did not weather the transition to the market economy, and he did not work in the last two decades of his life.' Perhaps Te Wei's style of animation will be carried forward by others? The knowledge that this was his last film gives added poignancy to the final scene involving the old master, in which he plays a qin that is merely a blur of ink, surrounded by layers of mist. The precious instrument is passed on to his student, who plays it as the master's boat travels up the screen and into the distance until it seemingly fades into the sky.