Coming Home

Coming Home ★★★★½

I wrote a review somewhere when CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER came out about how I still feel obligated to watch anything Zhang Yimou puts out but I won't ever regain the passion for his movies I once had until he makes another non-wuxia movie with Gong Li. In the intervening time I've managed to miss every movie he's made, but I feel justified because he's gone and done just what I asked for, and I loved it. It may not rank as high for me as any of his movies in that magical stretch from JU DOU to SHANGHAI TRIAD, but it's as good as RED SORGHUM, anyway.

The first twenty minutes or so of COMING HOME (the prologue before the Cultural Revolution ends) is, however, as good as anything Zhang has ever put on film. It is so carefully choreographed, with the three family members never managing to meet on the same plane - with the staircase landings, roof ladders, train platforms, none of them are ever on the same level, at least without a literal or figurative locked door between them. The dancing is so visually striking and the drama is established so efficiently with a minimum of dialogue, that my heart leapt at what seemed to be a complete return to form.

The next section, though - which comprises the majority of the film - is not so painstakingly composed and does become a bit overly sentimental. It never got as precious as I feared it might become (though the letter reading came close), but it was something of a letdown after the perfection of the opening. I'm not complaining about the melodrama of the specificity of Yu's memory loss. It's an effective metaphor for the confusion caused by the wiping away of so many lives and traditions by the Cultural Revolution and then having to psychically rebuild once it's over. Without Gong Li's utterly convincing performance it might not have worked, but I could fully accept her amnesia as a way to explore the idea of being able to forgive everyone else's mistakes and cruelties but one's own.