Beautifully serene and inwardly stirring, “Coming Home” is an awards-worthy drama from China.
“Coming Home” director Zhang Yimou earned Oscar nominations for 1987’s “Red Sorghum” and 1991’s “Raise the Red Lantern.” His cinematic mastery also informs “Coming Home,” an intimate, elegant drama about love, separation and loyalty.
Screenwriter Zou Jingzhi based the film on Yan Geling’s novel “The Criminal Lu Yanshi.” During Communist China’s Cultural Revolution, Lu, a husband and father, is deemed an enemy of the state. Ripped away from his wife, Yu, and their daughter, Dandan, The Party imprisons him for 20 years.
Before their painful separation, Lu and Yu were a devoted couple and, no doubt, loving parents to Dandan. “Coming Home” becomes a tragedy stacked on more tragedy when Lu finally comes home.
Yimou, in his director’s notes, says everyone knows that the actors playing Lu and Yu, Chen Daoming and Gong Li, are the best in China. They do extraordinarily sensitive work in “Coming Home.” The performances are so affecting, so totally in character in the most unselfish ways.
Following the action and suspense sequence that opens “Coming Home,” the film presents its central dilemma. Lu, officially “rehabilitated” in the eyes of The Party, returns to the apartment he hasn’t shared with his wife in 20 years.
The smiling Yu greets her husband and invites him in. Her manner is merely polite. There’s no emotional reunion. She doesn’t recognize Lu. She thinks he is someone else.
“Mr. Fang,” she says forcefully. “What are you doing here? Get out! Get out!”
Understandably, this unexpected reaction to his homecoming devastates Lu. Later, in an almost comic scene, even in-person assurances by Party officials don’t convince Yu that the man who says he is Lu is her husband.
The loyal husband determines he will do whatever necessary to restore his wife’s memory of him. It’s a frustrating quest lined with painful disappointments. The husband’s patience yields unexpected rewards but also prolonged sadness. His devotion becomes the definition of love.