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Contemporary Chinese cinema’s finest colorist, Zhang Yimou has lately alternated between eye-popping-but-thematically-inert spectacles and intimate dramas that pack more emotion. His earlier work, however, combines the two, usually to depict the low status of women in pre-revolutionary China. The best example is Raise the Red Lantern, the tale of 19-year-old Songlian, who becomes a local potentate’s fourth wife. The elegantly composed 1991 film is keyed, like most of Zhang’s early work, to the contrast between natural hues and man-made colors—in this case, the red lantern that indicates which wife is keeping company with the master for the night. Yet the movie’s appeal is not merely formal. Songlian’s struggle for status illustrates how the powerless battle among themselves rather than unite against their oppressor. If that sounds like an exemplary Communist lesson, Chinese authorities found it so threatening that they banned the film. The film shows at 7 p.m. at the Library of Congress’ Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. (202) 707-5677. —-Mark Jenkins