ballets tell tragic stories, but the Maoist-era Red Detachment of Women caused them. It certainly contributed to
the woes of Lu Yanshi’s family during the Cultural Revolution. Their wounds
will never fully heal, even when he is finally “rehabilitated” and released
from his prison camp in Zhang Yimou’s straight-up masterpiece Coming Home (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York.
Yanshi was a college professor—and therefore a class enemy during the Gang of
Four’s reign of terror. Further compounding his guilt, Lu escaped from his
labor camp, finding the half-starved life of a fugitive more bearable.
Naturally, the Communist Party responded by pressuring his family. Lu’s wife
Feng Wanyu will bear any risk to protect him, but their daughter Dan Dan has
absorbed too much of the omnipresent propaganda. She is a gifted ballet dancer,
but she could very well lose the lead role in Red Detachment of Women she has worked so hard to win. Convinced to
inform on her father, she learns the hard way what sort of opportunities are available
to the children of traitors.
nothing, Dan Dan’s relationship with her mother is nearly irreparably poisoned.
Unfortunately, the years Feng spends separated from Lu are not kind to her. By
the time he is released, Feng is already suffering from mild dementia. Due to
some cruel form of amnesia, she is unable to recognize Lu. Worse still, she
sometimes mistakes her distraught husband for the predatory Officer Fang, who
used Lu’s safety to extort sexual favors from Feng, like any good Communist
would. However, Lu quickly reconciles with his deeply remorseful daughter.
you think there is a better performance to be seen in a film this year than
Gong Li’s turn-for-the-ages as Feng, you either have profoundly faulty aesthetic
judgement or were simply even more struck by the achingly poignant dignity of
Chen Daoming’s Lu. Watching Lu as Feng unknowingly tells him about himself is
more devastating than a thousand Old Yellers getting shot. What they are doing
is actually very complicated. They are playing scenes with each other in the
moment, but also with each characters’ ghosts from the past. Yet they pull it
off brilliantly. It is their work that leaves a lump in your throat, but Zhang
Huiwen is still quite touching as the disillusioned Dan Dan—and also convincingly
graceful in her dance scenes.
Home is not trying to be a political film, because the terrible implications
of the Cultural Revolution need no belaboring. They are ever-present and
inescapable. Instead, it is an exquisite tragedy, rendered with incredible sensitivity
and humanism. Zhang has gone big with epics like House of Flying Daggers and made Fifth Generation-defining classics
with Gong Li, like Red Sorgum and The Story of Qiu Ju, but with the
perfectly balanced Coming Home he expresses
the pain and confusion of hundreds of thousands of families on a painfully
intimate canvas. If you only see one film this year, you want it to be Coming Home. Very highly recommended, it
opens this Wednesday (9/9) in New York, at the Angelica Film Center downtown
and the Lincoln Plaza uptown.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Cultural Revolution, Gong Li, Zhang Yimou