Janus-Faced Nostalgia: Sentimentalism and the Market

Since the late 1990s, a growing number of films and television dramas with a nostalgic tint have mushroomed. Nostalgia for the past has become a Janus-faced structure of feeling: it criticises the present, and at the same time, this sentimentalism is also commodified and promoted in the market for incessant consumption. This paper examines personalised narratives and representations of the socialist past in films Under the Hawthorn Tree (Shan Zha Shu Zhi Lian, 2010) and Coming Home (Gui Lai, 2014). Under the Hawthorn Tree is positioned as a moral critique of contemporary materialism; however, its nostalgia and sentimentalism are fetishized in the female image, reinforcing the hierarchical gender ideology of contemporary consumer society, rendering history decontextualised and deterritorialised into a cultural sign. In addition, this sentimentalism of nostalgia is also associated with wenyi genre for its realistic visual style and ‘quality’, and being promoted for a niche market as an alternative to blockbusters featuring visual spectacles. In this sense, personalised and nostalgic depiction of the past not only indicates a turn in narrative strategy from grand to micro-narratives, but also becomes a marketing strategy.