Coming Home is a moving and sublimely beautiful story about a couple being separated for many years, traumatic events occurring in the interim, and then the couple having to face the difficult challenge of reuniting. The story begins with their daughter Dan Dan (Zhang) being called to her dance academy administrator’s office with her mother Wanyu (Li Gong) to inform them that Dan Dan’s father Lu (Chen) has escaped from prison, and the two are supposed to inform the authorities if he comes home. Lu was sent to a labor camp for political reasons during the Cultural Revolution when Dan Dan was only three years old, and since he could not send them letters during his incarceration, his daughter feels no attachment toward him, and wants her mother to tell the officers if he appears.
Told in a contemplative style where nuances in emotions are carefully expressed by the actors (especially by Li Gong), it feels like a detective story in which bits and pieces of knowledge finally lead up to a satisfying explanation. Those bits and pieces involve wrenching disappointments (for Dan Dan in her dancing, for Lu in his wife’s reactions to him, and for Wanyu in coping with the aftermath of two traumatic events) that shape their experiences and their relationships for years to come. Writers Geling Yan (novel) and Jingzhi Zou (screenplay) appear to be well enough informed about psychological profiles and amnesic disorders to portray the characters convincingly, and Director Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) rolls the story out with measured grace while keeping the viewer engaged.
I was intrigued by the near absence of touch among family members. Even when Dan Dan is sobbing, her father listens compassionately, but never puts his arm around her. The most eloquent (and only) touch is when Lu is playing the piano and Wanyu puts her hand ever so tenderly on his shoulder (and Lang Lang's piano playing is supreme). But otherwise, even the mother and daughter never embrace. Perhaps this characteristic is culturally Chinese and I am uninformed, but it seems very odd to me, and I haven’t noticed it in other Chinese films.
Overall, I loved this film for its messages—particularly that of not jumping conclusions when someone is acting strangely—of loyalty, of the beauty and enduring satisfaction of love, and human adaptability and creativity.
You will be better grounded after you see this film.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland