Wednesday, May 11, 2011

我的父親母親, The Road Home

我的父親母親 is a heartwarming film that illuminates the pursuit of love and how it still resounds in one's heart after so many years. The audience are brought on this beautiful journey through the eyes of a son who returns home after the demise of his father, a respected village teacher, to handle the funeral arrangements.

As he tries to balance between his mother's seemingly stubborn request of a traditional procession to the limitations of reality, he relates the love story of his parents as we (the son and the audience) collectively discover the reason behind his mother's insistence that is borne out of an unwavering devotion for her husband. This motivated the son to fulfill his mother's wishes to conduct a tradition funeral against the odds.

The courtship all those years ago started when Luo Changyu comes from the city to teach the students in the village. On seeing him, Zhao Di, the belle of the village, becomes infatuated with him as he is taken aback by her beauty and kindness. This sparked off a blossoming romance that consists of exchanged glances and the silly things one would in the midst of being intoxicated by love.

Yet, the course of true love never did run smooth as they are separated due to the ambiguous political trouble that Luo has gotten into. But Zhao's devotion never wavered as she awaits his return at the expense of her health. Fortunately, true love did triumph in the end as they were reunited and never to be separated for forty years.

This film, anchored by the brilliant performances from Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Yulian (young and the elderly Zhao Di respectively) and Zheng Hao (Luo Changyu) as well as furnished  by Zhang Yimou's directorial vision, is certainly a masterpiece.

The innocence and chemistry between Zhang Ziyi and Zheng Hao certainly moved me as the flush of first love between their characters unfolded. The subtleties between the actors through each sideward glance and emerging smile communicated so much more than the usual melodramatic fare. Despite having little screen time,  the quiet strength exuded by Zhao Yulian in her devotion to provide a proper funeral for her husband and fulfill his last wish of rebuilding the school is a beautiful contrast to that of Zhang Ziyi's portrayal of innocent anticipation. The evolution of Zhao Di's devotion provided by the contrast in the portryal of the two actresses gives us a more realistic sense of the strength of her devotion in different times of her life.

Having said that, the direction of the film provided by Zhang Yimou is simply outstanding. His interesting choice of presenting the present day in monochromatic colours to enhance the bleak physical and internal landscape of winter and Zhao Di's mind respectively as opposed to the lush and vivid colours to paint the flush of love in Zhao's youth enhances the brilliance of the love story. The same could be said of the pace of the plot as there are extended scenes of nothingness in the present day as compared to the quick unfolding of the love story. While the scenes in which the young Zhao is waiting for Luo to return may be long, the emotional beats of anticipation, longing and hope somehow increases the pace of the scene emotionally in the midst of the stillness.

Another aspect of the film which must be credited to Zhang Yimou and Bao Shi (screenwriter of the film which is based on his novel, Remembrance) would be the use of silence in the film. The economical use of dialogue is meant to explain and accelerate the plot and nothing else but images of Zhao running clumsily in a state of pure happiness or close up shots of a bowl being mended act as symbols of love and understanding. This truly appeals to the raw emotions of the audience. While it is unknown to us if Zhang Yimou ever intended his film to reach beyond his Chinese audience, he has certainly woven a beautiful story poised for the international screens.

This cinematic work of poetry transcends all boundaries and I challenge anyone not to be touched by it.

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