The Road Home Review
This excellent film, winner of the Grand Prix Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival 2000, appears to have been very much overlooked on its release in the cinema last year and on the recent DVD release. This is an example of film-making at its very best where every element is handled by people of the highest skill and quality in each of their respective professions. It is also a film that should appeal to a much wider audience than the average foreign film.
Directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju), The Road Home is a simple story of a man returning to the village where he was born in rural China to bury his father. While there he reminisces on the story of his father’s arrival as the teacher of the village school and his mother and father’s courtship.
There are fine, sympathetic performances from Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Sun Honglei, but the real star of the film is Hou Yong, the cinematographer who also worked with the director on Not One Less and once again here he has filled this film with the most beautiful photography and superb use of natural scenery, colour and light. But this is not just a collection of images of pretty scenery and beautifully back-lit actors. The seasons are used to follow the emotional content of the film, from the beautifully lit spring and summer scenes when Ziyi and Honglei first meet to the cold ravages of winter while Ziyi waits for the teacher to return to the village.
Full credit to Columbia for providing a flawless 2:35:1 anamorphic transfer of the film. The bookend, present day scenes are presented in black and white while the main story is colour. As this is a Region 2 PAL release, it is hard to imagine this film looking any better. The sheer opulence and crystal clarity of colour and light on display and the stunning cinematography are given the treatment they deserve here.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 and the sound is well used on all the speakers. It is particularly effective as the film boasts a beautiful original score by San Bao.
Extras – there are none, but I don’t think the DVD suffers from the lack of features and I wouldn’t mark down the overall score for the film on this shortfall. I am not a big fan of extras and especially here with such a simple and beautiful film – presented perfectly in anamorphic widescreen with DD 5.1 sound - everything you need is presented in the feature. I can’t see anything more that additional features could add to the enjoyment of the film.
With a romantic storyline and nostalgic look at rural China, beautiful scenery and a lush sweeping score, this film could easily have slipped into sentimentality and tweeness. Zhang Yimou is a better director than that. Just as he touched on the problem of the drain of young people from rural towns into the big city in Not One Less, in a similar way this film makes its points about living in a small rural community in its own gentle way – never forgetting that the real focus of the film is the people, the family, the community and the relationships that hold them together. The result is a touching and beautiful film of remarkable quality.