Ruan Lingyu in The Goddess
The plot of this stark, sad film involves a young mother (and prostitute) who tries to do whatever she can for her young child. She is met with opposition from all corners, including her possessive pimp and an education system that rejects the child because of his mother's reputation.
I try to judge films without overthinking about the actual life of one of the film's participants, but that's a little hard to do in The Goddess and the star Ruan Lingyu, who plays the mother in the film. Lingyu was one of the most popular stars of China during this time, but her life was ultimately as tragic as the heroine in the film, as Ruan committed suicide in 1935 at the age of twenty-four.
Her story was recounted in the 1992 Stanley Kwan film Center Stage (another 1001 Films entry), which I will try to get to soon.