Family, forgiveness at center of ‘Coming Home’
By Bob Bloom
“Coming Home,” the title of this gentle Chinese drama, has a double meaning.
The movie, set in China during and after the brutal Cultural Revolution of the 1970s, centers on three people — a wife, husband and daughter.
Yu (the beautiful Gong Li) is a teacher whose husband, a professor, was imprisoned during the revolutionary turmoil.
But Lu (Chen Daoming) has escaped and is being hunted by the authorities.
Yu and their daughter, Dandan (Zhang Huiwen), are pointedly warned not to aid Lu in any way and to call Communist Party officials if he tries to contact them.
Lu is able to sneak into the apartment building where his wife and daughter live, but when Yu refuses to open the door for him, he flees.
Dandan finds a note from her father asking her mother to meet him at a specific time at the railway station.
The young woman, a ballerina promised a leading role if she informs on her father, alerts the authorities.
Lu is later recaptured, but during the turmoil surrounding his apprehension, Yu is knocked to the ground and suffers a head injury.
A few years later, Lu is released and returns home, only to find that his wife does not recognize him nor believe that he is her husband.
Lu, with the help of the repentant Dandan — who has quit ballet and works in a textile factory — tries many methods to rekindle Yu’s memory, but to no avail.
Yu has a selective form of amnesia. She does remember that Dandan was responsible for the apprehension of her husband. Consequently, she does not allow her daughter into her apartment.
“Coming Home” works on two levels. One is a story of reconciliation, as Lu serves as a facilitator to help heal the wounds between mother and daughter.
He also becomes a helper to Yu, who goes to the train station the fifth of each month, because she rereads the same letter from Lu about his release and forgets she has gone to the station the month before.
Lu, too, has come home, but has formed a new kind of relationship with his wife. He is her confidant, reading her letters Lu sent her, and just being around to support her.
The impact of “Coming Home” is to show the damage and destruction the radicalized revolution had on common people in China at the time. The extremism of the era forced many people to flee or be sent to camps for re-education.
Gong Li gives a poignant and heart-wrenching performance as a middle-aged woman living in her own world, who seems to only remember the pain of the past and none of the joys of her pre-revolution resistance.
Chen Daoming displays patience, love and understanding for the woman who was once his life partner and now cannot even recognize him.
“Coming Home” is a bittersweet experience that looks at sacrifice, redemption and the timelessness of love.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3 ½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), violence, sexual references