Yimou Zhang goes minimal and makes a film with only three characters, a nuclear family.
This is fantastic and I cried like a little baby the whole time. As his other films, this doesn’t shy away from politically delicate matters, although it focuses on the human story.
Lu Yanshi is branded an outlaw and send to a labour camp, only to return 20 years later. When he returns, the local authorities are pretty nonchalant about the whole ordeal and treat him as a regular citizen, which surprised me. I think much was lost in translation here.
He returns to his house, but not to his home. Her wife went insane and is now an invalid that can’t recognize him. His own daughter is a complete stranger to him and resents him for making her lose a prestigious role in a big ballet when she was young.
Slowly, he tries to return to his home as a stranger and tries to befriend his wife once again, since their daughter soon realizes the error of her ways. He communicates with her using letters purportedly written from exile, which he himself reads. She will go to the train station for the rest of her life waiting for her husband to return, oblivious to the fact that her husband is the rickshaw driver. A cruel fate only magnified by the revelation of the circumstances that lead to her condition at the hands of Fang, a local head honcho.
Gong Li needs no introduction, but all three main characters carry the film and blow everything out of the water. Eye-watering performances. The supporting cast is relegated to smaller roles, but my favourite is Fang’s wife. When Lu Yanshi searches for Fang, he finds his wife, which mistakes him for a Party official and berates him for taking away her husband and leaving her kids orphan. The parallels are obvious, and by that point all bad blood goes away and only sorrow remains.
Even though this is a smaller scale affair with just a few different sets, it’s visually very diverse and beautiful, with snowy conditions apropos to the story.