A film for selective tastes, this is a slow moving Chinese love story concerning joy and sadness, separation and reunion.
Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) and Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) are a devoted couple forced to separate when Lu is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner. Released during the last days of the Cultural Revolution, he finally comes home only to find that his beloved wife has amnesia and remembers little of her past. Unable to recognize Lu, she waits for her husband’s return. A stranger alone in the heart of his broken family, Lu determines to resurrect their past together and thereby try to reawaken his wife’s memory. The pair has a daughter, who was of a very tender age when her father was taken away. During her high school years, she vigorously pursued her personal passion – ballet – but her mother’s deteriorating health has put paid to that notion.
The first thing that stood out for me was the facial expressions and kindly countenance of Lu, which serve as a window into his soul. He is not embittered in spite of the hardships he has endured during two decades of separation. Dumbstruck though he is by his wife’s lack of recognition, he displays abiding patience. His daughter hasn’t always made the right choices, having fallen prey to the political apparatchiks, but she matures as events unfold. Her mother is a broken shell who needs nurturing, with no guarantees that even with TLC she will mend. Like her husband, she has endured much while waiting for him to return, bringing up her daughter on her own.
I speak from time to time about movies where you can tell you are being manipulated, but you don’t mind because you are intrigued as to where the journey will lead. Coming Home fits into that category. Mind you, it is awfully drawn out and time passes slowly. It certainly didn’t need to be close to two hours. As such, it requires perseverance on the part of the audience because relatively little happens.
Directed by Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern), Coming Home screened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and is what I would term an ideal Festival film. While watching it I was thinking about it like a Greek tragedy, where something has to give. A single word comes to mind, namely “endure”. It has limited audience appeal, but Lu Yanshi comes across as eminently likeable.
Rated PG, Coming Home scores a 6 to 6½ out of 10.
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Chen Daoming and Gong Li
Release date: 30 July 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television