Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2017 Cannes Marathon: Coming Home (2014 film)

(Played Out of Competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival)

Based on the novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi by Geling Yan, Coming Home is the story of a professor who is about to be released from prison during the last days of the Cultural Revolution in China as his wife struggles to remember her husband due to an accident that caused her to lose her memory. Directed by Zhang Yimou and screenplay by Zou Jingzhi, the film is an exploration of a family coming back together after years of being apart as they struggle to start over and recall aspects of the past. Starring Gong Li, Chen Daoming, and Zhang Huiwen. Coming Home is a touching and mesmerizing film from Zhang Yimou.

Set mainly in the 1970s during the final days of the Cultural Revolution in China and three years after it ended, the film revolves around a professor who had just been released from prison after an escape during his sentence where he returns home to find that his wife is unable to remember him since the day he had been re-captured. The film is an exploration of a man trying to reunite with his wife and daughter as copes with the fact that his wife has no memory into what he looked like as she continuously waits for him at the train station on a certain day of the month. Zou Jingzhi’s screenplay begins in 1973 where Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) has escaped from prison during a prison sentence for his crimes against the government as he tries to meet his wife Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) as she hopes to see him again.

Yet, they’re reported by authorities that would put Lu back in prison while Feng is knocked on the floor with serious head injury. The film then picks up six years later where Lu is released as he’s picked up by his daughter Dandan (Zhang Huiwen) as he learns about Feng’s amnesia as he would live nearby trying to see if she can regain some form of memory about him. Dandan would help her father as she has been forced to live in a dormitory at the factory she works at as she carries some remorse over what happened to her parents as it relates to her ballet career where she lost the shot in being a lead dancer. Dandan would start to connect with the father she barely knew as it would also give her the chance to reconcile with her mother whom she’s had a very troubled relationship with since the accident. Even as she tries to help her father in regaining aspects of her mother’s memory where she thinks Lu is a former government official named Fang. Yet, Lu would often appear in front of his wife pretending to be a piano tuner or a letter-reader as a way to get close with his wife as she continues to go to the train station waiting for him.

Zhang Yimou’s direction is quite understated as it doesn’t go for anything that is overly-stylized which is often prominent with some of his films. Instead, Yimou aims for something very simple with this story that doesn’t revolve on vast locations nor anything extravagant as he shoots the film in rural areas in Beijing and Tianjin where it does feel like a world that is changing. With a lot of references to the Cultural Revolution that includes a performance of the Chinese ballet Red Detachment of Women in the first act. Yimou showcases that period in China’s history as well as some of its aftermath where it is a straightforward drama told in a very sensitive manner. Much of Yimou’s compositions include medium shots and close-ups to play into Lu’s attempt to reconnect with his wife which includes scenes of him reading letters he wrote to her or talking about simple things. Though there’s a few wide shots, Yimou is more about a family reconnecting no matter how complicated things are as it relates to Feng’s memory as she still waits for her husband to return. Overall, Yimou creates a compelling yet heartfelt film about a man trying to connect with his amnesiac wife.

Cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao does excellent work with the cinematography as it is straightforward but also very low-key for some of the nighttime interior/exterior scenes as well as the daytime scenes. Editors Peicong Meng and Mo Zhang do nice work with the editing as it is straightforward to play into the drama without anything that is stylized in its approach to cutting. Makeup designer Greg Cannom does terrific work with the makeup for some of the people in the ballet as well as a key scene late in the film. Sound editor Jing Tao does superb work with the sound as it is very straightforward with some big scenes involving a chase early in the film as well as moments in the streets. The film’s music by Qigang Chen is fantastic as it is very low-key for its orchestral score with a lot of string pieces to play into the drama.

The film’s brilliant cast include some notable small roles from Tao Guo and Ni Yan as a couple of government officials and Jia-yi Zhang as a doctor. Zhang Huiwen is amazing as Dandan as a young woman who initially wanted nothing to do with her father as she copes with some of the thing she’s done as she would later connect with him in trying to help her mother whom she’s have issues with. Chen Daoming is incredible as Lu Yanshi as a professor who copes with his time in prison as he finally returns home where he deals with his wife’s amnesia as he does whatever he can to reconnect with her as well as his daughter whom he barely knows. Finally, there’s Gong Li in an absolutely radiant performance as Feng Wanyu as this woman who hadn’t seen her husband in years until a chance to see him would cause her to lose part of her memories in an accident as it’s a very restrained yet evocative performance of a woman trying to remember as well as determine to see him again despite the fact that the man who is helping her is her husband.

Coming Home is a remarkable film from Zhang Yimou that features a magnificent performance from Gong Li as well as top-notch performances from Chen Daoming and Zhang Huiwen. Along with its simple yet engrossing story, the film is definitely one of Yimou’s more intimate yet touching stories that is really a love story. In the end, Coming Home is a sensational film from Zhang Yimou.

Zhang Yimou Films: (Red Sorghum) – (Codename Cougar) – (Ju Dou) – (Raise the Red Lantern) – (The Story of Qui Ju) – (Keep Cool) – Not One Less - (The Road Home) – (Happy Times) – (Hero (2002 film)) – House of Flying Daggers - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles - Curse of the Golden Flower - A Simple Noodle Story - (Under the Hawthorn Tree) – (The Flowers of War) – The Great Wall (2016 film) - (Shadow (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2017

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