Thursday, 6 July 2017

Coming Home (4 Stars)

This is a bittersweet romantic drama. It begins in China in the mid 1970's. 13-year-old Dandan is a highly skilled ballerina. She wants the lead role in a production of "The Red Detachment of Women", but she isn't allowed the part because her father, Lu Yanshi, is in prison as a revolutionary. A supposed revolutionary. During China's Cultural Revolution it was typical for people to be imprisoned if they said anything which only slightly disagreed with Chairman Mao's thoughts.

Dandan's father was a university professor before his imprisonment. After 10 years he manages to escape and travels home to see his wife and daughter. His wife, Wan Yu, is happy to see him, but Dandan despises him, blaming him for all the suffering in her life. She reports him to the police, and he's returned to prison. He's threatened with execution, but a Communist Party official called Fang says his life will be spared if Yu sleeps with him. She does what she has to for the sake of her husband.

Three years later Chairman Mao is dead, and most of the political prisoners are freed, including Lu. He returns home, but Yu doesn't recognise him. She's suffering from psychogenic amnesia. From what I understand it's a condition where a person completely forgets someone or something essential to his life, although he remembers everything else. It's brought on by a psychological trauma. It usually only lasts a few years, but in some cases it's permanent.

At first Yu thinks her husband is Officer Fang and throws him out, so he moves into an unused shop opposite her house. The next time she sees him she doesn't recognise him at all. He pretends to be a piano tuner who has come to repair the piano that he used to play. When he plays one of her favourite songs she's emotionally moved and almost recognises him, but it's not enough. A few days later a package arrives from the prison with the unsent letters that he wrote for the last 13 years. Yu can hardly read them because he had to write them in the dark, so he offers to sit and read them to her. For weeks he's her letter reader. He writes her new letters which he smuggles into the large collection. For instance, she's been angry with Dandan for years because she had her father arrested, so Lu writes that she should forgive her. Yu is moved by the content of the letters, but never realises that her husband is sitting in front of her.

In the last letter that Lu wrote from prison -- a letter that was actually delivered -- he said he would return home on the 5th, but he didn't say which month. Every month Yu travels to the train station to wait for her husband. The whole time Lu stands next to his wife, heartbroken that she doesn't recognise him.

It's a moving story, but I find it hard to relate to it. I assume that the strange illness from which Yu suffers is accurately portrayed, but I had never heard of it before watching the film. The illness's selective amnesia is alienating. The film's irony isn't lost on me. Lu's wife loved him although his daughter hated him. When he finally became reconciled with Dandan, three years later, he lost his wife.

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