Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home is an atypical film from the man who achieved fame with such ambitious historical dramas as Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and To Live (1994). It’s a simple love story of a universal type, a folk tale with a leisurely pace and a foregone conclusion.
Adapted from the novel, Remembrance, by Bao Shi, the film is bracketed by black-and-white sequences which take place in the present. Yusheng Luo (Sun Honglei), a middle-aged businessman who’s moved to the big city, returns to his small village home upon hearing that his father has died. His grieving mother wants her husband to receive a traditional burial, which includes carrying the body several miles from the hospital to its final resting place. At first her devotion seems old-fashioned and servile. But once the movie switches to a beautifully colorful flashback and tells the story of her meeting and courtship with her future husband, it more than makes sense.
This could all be terribly sentimental, and it does have a musical score which seems to be nudging things in that direction, but it’s redeemed by a truly captivating performance by Zhang Ziyi (who was Jen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as the 18-year-old girl who pursues the 20-year-old village teacher, a romance that is interrupted when he’s ominously called back to the big city for “political reasons.” In a vein more sweetly sad than syrupy, Yimou tells his story in a style of assuredness sans flourish, his lyrical gaze fixed on an actress whose natural freshness could make a cynic sigh.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Visit the official The Road Home Web site at sonyclassics.com/theroadhome.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.