How often do we wonder, or take the time to reflect upon, how it is that we came to be where we are? How much do we know of what went before us; or more specifically, of the past that directly affected who and what we are today. Moreover, is it important, or anything we need to know or should? How significant, really, is our past in relation to the present? According to director Yimou Zhang, these questions are not only valid but of paramount importance, which he aptly illustrates in his lyrically beautiful film, `The Road Home,' written for the screen by Shi Bao, adapted from his own novel, `Remembrance.' Without question, at the heart of the film is a monumental yet simple story of true love in the purest sense, and of the devotion which renders that love eternal. But the film transcends even that, and within the greater context indicates the impact of the past upon the present, which is summed up in a single line from the film: `Know the past, know the present.' And know, too, that the love portrayed in this story is the kind of love that is abiding, and that which sustains all that makes life worth living. It's a veritable journey of the soul; one that will touch you deeply and linger in your memory long after the screen has gone dark.
Upon receiving the news that his father has died, Luo Yusheng (Honglei Sun) leaves the city to return to his home, a small village in the mountains, to bury his father and comfort his bereaved mother, Zhao Di (Yulian Zhao). When he arrives, however, he discovers that his mother will not be consoled until her wish concerning the burial of her husband, Luo Changyu (Hao Zheng) is fulfilled. In keeping with a long standing tradition and superstition, Di insists that his coffin be carried by hand by the men of the village along the road connecting the village and the city, insuring by so doing that in death Changyu will always be able to remember his way home.
Yusheng quickly finds that realizing his mother's request will be no easy task; their village is small and all of the able-bodied men have left for the city, leaving only children and those too old for such an arduous undertaking. And it is winter, a harsh time of year in the mountains. But Di is adamant, and so Yusheng sets about the business of fulfilling her request. And as he does so, he reflects upon the story of his parents; a story well known throughout the village, for theirs was a love that was unbridled and boundless, the likes of which no one in the village had ever know before. Or since.
This film, so wonderfully crafted and delivered by director Zhang, is altogether ethereal and transporting; he tells the story in simplistic terms, and yet it is in that very simplicity that he finds the genuine honesty and truth that provides such an emotional impact and makes this love story one that rivals any the screen has ever known. Aided by the masterful cinematography of Yong Hou, Zhang achieves that same sense of transcendence that defines much of Akira Kurosawa's films, such as `Ran' and `Akira Kurosawa's Dreams,' or Ang Lee's `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.' There is not a superfluous moment in the entire film, and Zhang proves that capturing pure emotion with the camera can express more than pages of dialogue recited by an actor. And with his lens, Zhang opens up the very heart of the film and lays it bare for all to see and feel, finding more in the eyes of his characters and in their expressions than words could ever convey. It's a study of human nature that is disarming in it's candor, and quite simply a brilliant piece of filmmaking by a director with an irrefutably incisive understanding of the human condition.
Without question, though, the single aspect that makes this such an unforgettable film is the performance (in her motion picture debut) by Ziyi Zhang as the young Zhao Di. A young woman of exquisite beauty, she has a sublime screen presence that is a portrait of the angelic, and her innate ability to silently express the myriad emotions called for by her character is used to great effect by director Zhang. Ziyi's portrayal is one of youthful innocence mixed with stubborn determination, which gives her character the necessary depth to be entirely convincing, and she will win you over in a heartbeat. She is so affecting that near the end, when Di, now an old woman, is hurrying across a rickety foot bridge, the same bridge we've seen the young Di traverse many times on her way to and from the schoolhouse (which is central to the story), despite the weathered age so evident on her face, because of the lasting impression made by Ziyi, you realize that she still bears the heart of the young woman you've come to care so much about by this time, and you understand that age is superficial; that this is a shell housing the spirit and the true beauty that resides within. It's a beautiful moment to behold, and ours forever, due to the extraordinary performance and presence of the delicate Ziyi Zhang, as well as the tremendous sensitivity and care with which she is presented by director Zhang.
The supporting cast includes Bin Li (Grandmother), Guifa Chang (Old Mayor), Wencheng Sung (Mayor) and Zhongxi Zhang (Crockery Repairman). A love story told sincerely from the heart is a treasure that endures forever, like a painting by Monet or Renoir; and like those artists, director Zhang is nothing less than an impressionist behind the camera, capturing the distinctive rhythms of life and love for all time in `The Road Home,' a gentle, poetic film that will make it's way into the hearts of all who experience it. And therein remain, forevermore. 10/10.