Cannes 2014: Zhang Yimou's Tender, Moving New Film 'Coming Home'
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2014
What if you returned home to your loved one, a wife, a husband, any significant other, after years apart and they didn't recognize you? That is the idea behind Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou's latest film, Coming Home, based on Geling Yan's novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi, which opened in China a few weeks ago and just premiered out-of-competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. This is a beautiful, tender, moving film about love and dedication and patience, and will leave you with tears in your eyes, as long as you still have a beating heart inside your chest. It may be a simple story, but it's such a special, sincere film made with care.
Beloved actor Chen Daoming stars as Lu Yanshi, and we first meet him during the end of the Zedong-led Chinese Revolution in the 1940s. Ousted as a criminal of the party, he attempts to reconnect with his wife, a teacher played by acclaimed actress Gong Li, and daughter Dandan, played by newcomer Zhang Huiwen, but is arrested and taken to a labor camp until the revolution ends. The biggest issues with Coming Home lie in its structure and timing, spending too little time in certain eras (and not enough time at the opening providing backstory behind their original disconnection), and moving forward quickly "some years later" in the second half. Luckily, once we get to the meat of the story, Yimou lets things breathe as emotions swell.
As odd as it is to make this comparison, Coming Home can kind of be thought of as a reverse 50 First Dates (which I will admit is a guilty pleasure). Lu Yanshi's wife ends up with amnesia, and when he finally returns home years later, she can't remember him (and only him). He tries every single day to remind her that he is actually her husband and he's the man she has been waiting desperately for all these years. This is where the very sweet side of the story comes out. Despite his "criminal" history, Lu Yanshi is a tender man, and wants nothing but to reconnect with his family and live a happy, peacful life together with them. It's heartbreaking to watch him smile when he thinks she remembers him, only to suddenly change and yell at him to get out.
Referring to Coming Home as simple is not a negative, especially when its simplicity is handled beautifully. As much as this may be a story we've heard or seen before, the delicacy and care Zhang Yimou and his actors put into each scene is what makes the film resonate. If you've ever loved someone deeply, it's impossible not to feel something tugging at your emotions when Lu Yanshi keeps trying to remind her, never giving up on her, standing by her side and coming up with new schemes and techniques to remain in her life any way he can. It's a wonderful story to watch play out, even if you know where it's going to end up, and Yimou gives us such a rich and fully realized China to revel in. From snow to rain, his visual prowess still rules the screen.
However, it's the emotions that make the most impact with Coming Home. It's not the kind of film that will change your life, but it is the kind of film that will reaffirm your life's focus, reminding us that amongst all the craziness of life on this planet, love is still one of the strongest forces of all. From the original piano score by Qigang Chen (The Flowers of War) to the exquisite performances from Gong Li & Chen Daoming, Coming Home is a fresh step in a new direction for Zhang Yimou, yet one that shows he's still as talented and capable of a storyteller as he has always been. The final absolutely perfect shot in this film is one that just took my breath away and made me both smile and shed a tear at the same time. Love, always, forever.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 8.5 out of 10