Short Takes: 9/25/15
Coming Home, from Chinese director Yimou Zhang, has the odd distinction of sharing its title with a handful of different films of the same name. All are unrelated.
Going back to 1987’s Red Sorghum, throughout the ‘90s with titles like Raise the Red Lantern, To Live and Shanghai Triad, with a diversion to martial arts fare like Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and the 2011 The Flowers of War starring Christian Bale, Yimou has the most solid reputation of any living Chinese helmer and has had his films regularly distributed domestically. Sony Pictures Classics, which is handling Coming Home, distributed many of Yimou’s films in the ‘90s.
Coming Home stars Li Gong and Daoming Chen as a married couple whose lives are thrown in turmoil by the Cultural Revolution. During the 1970s, Li and Daoming are separated by the state, but even when Daoming escapes from prison his teenage daughter who has never known him turns him in to the authorities.
Flash forward a few more years and the political prisoners have been freed, presumably rehabilitated. Only when Daoming comes home he’s distraught to discover that Li has literally lost her mind and doesn’t recognize him.
Yimou guides the audience through the husband’s repeated attempts to spur his wife’s memory. At first Daoming imitates other people to get into her apartment, like Comrade Piano Tuner or Comrade Letter Reader. Li has good days but even those are marked by her trauma and amnesia to the point she has written messages all over her apartment to remind her how to live. For instance a sign on the door reads Don’t Lock the Door, or a sign on a lamp says Turn Off Lamp.
To say Coming Home is a four-handkerchief tearjerker is an understatement. But for a film that wears its emotions on its sleeve Coming Home shows the right amount of restraint to avoid being a melodramatic soap opera.
At the heart-breaking conclusion you’re left with feelings of loss and regret. Yet Yimou also ties in political subtext that demonstrates how true love can survive the most oppressive regime. Coming Home unwinds at the downtown Sundance Cinemas Houston.
Stonewall tells the story of gay rights activism that include the violent 1969 Stonewall Riots and the subsequent evolution of the more peaceful Gay Rights Parade the following year. Director Roland Emmerich uses the skills that made him the current greatest disaster movie director of our time (kind of a new millennium Cecil B. De Mille) to tell an intimate yet epic in scope story with class and style. Soundtrack and camera work are also aces.
Queen of Earth has two really good actresses tearing up the screen in a psychological tale of identity and loss of same. Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston are friends’ enjoying what at first seems like an idyllic weekend in the country. As things progress a lot of personal baggage surfaces.
Queen of Earth has a strong ‘70s vibe, very atmospheric with the emphasis on character development and close-ups. Throw in a little thematic resemblance to Bergman’s Persona, and mix with some properly timed histrionics and this film becomes compulsive viewing.
— Michael Bergeron