Friday, November 14, 2014

Coming Home- Review of a film by Zhang Yimou

Today was the day of watching a Chinese film at the Kolkata International Film Festival and the only other time I’ve watched a full-length Chinese feature film , not counting the martial arts ones, was roughly 8 years ago in Hyderabad inside  a quaint theatre within the complex housing the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Banjara Hills. Coincidentally the director of the film was same, Zhang Yimou . Zhang is a multiple award –winning, much acclaimed  director. The film I saw in Hyderabad was Zhang’s third film , Raise the Red Lantern which was originally made in 1991.

Coming Home is Zhang’s 20th film based on Geling Yan’s novel  that is set in the backdrop of the cultural revolution.  Lu is a  professor  who was  jailed for 10 years but one day he manages to escape from prison and secretly visits his home to see his school-teacher wife Yu & only daughter, Dandan. Lu reaches his house & knocks on the door but Yu, already pressurized by the party bosses, dithers to open the door. In the meanwhile Dandan returns from school and discovers her father.  Since Yu wasn’t opening the door, Lu leaves a message with Dandan asking her mother to meet him at his hiding place. The ballerina daughter , brainwashed by the party-line and eager to grab a main role in a ballet , snitches on her father expecting to land the lead role in a trade-off that subsequently doesn’t  materialize. Lu is re-arrested from his hiding place before he could meet Yu Finally after the end of cultural revolution , Lu returns home and shockingly finds that Yu,his wife, no longer recognizes him as she is suffering from psychogenic amnesia as a result of the trauma she suffered for not letting in the fugitive Lu  . On the physician’s advice Lu tries various measures to rekindle her memory . He shows Yu old pictures of theirs, plays her old songs on the piano etc. Finally he sends her a bag of old letters , unsent from prison. Yu uses Lu to read to herself the same letters without recognizing that Lu was the letter-writer. But even this doesn’t work and Lu is resigned to a neighborly-life with Yu as Yu still waits in her amnesic state, for Lu to come home one day, as promised in his last letter.  Lu had come home physically  but in a way he hasn’t come home for Yu, yet.
What I found in Coming Home was the simplicity of Zhang’s treatment of everything about the film. Simple settings, simple people, simple story, straight-forwardly simple camera-work , simple music. But what envelopes the simplicity in all corners is sensitivity that appeals to all audience. Zhang handles the subject as sensitively as Lu handles the amnesic Yu  (played beautifully by Gong Li).  Some reviewers have found in Coming Home, Zhang’s sublime protest against the hardline communist reign of Mao but the point is even the fascist regimes have bad precedent of suppressing  anti-party line-toeing  intellectuals & their families. I might add even the democratic regimes are not free from this malaise of leaving such families permanently traumatized.
Interestingly  Gong Li had played the lead role in Raise the Red Lantern too and  like Coming Home, the protagonist turned insane there too. So, maybe there is that indirect  message for the authoritarian regimes .
Overall, Coming Home is a well-directed ,beautiful movie and brilliant understated acting both by Gong Li as well as by Chen Daoming who plays Lu.
JAS rating : 8 out of 10

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