“The Road Home” begins its story in a dull, frozen black-and-white. Yusheng (Honglei Sun) is driving to the small Chinese village in which he was raised. He must see to the funeral arrangements for his father, who has died suddenly.
Soon we are whisked into the past, and the color comes in with it. Yusheng narrates for us a story he heard often as a child: his parents’ courtship.
His father, Luo Changyu (Hao Zheng), came to the village at age 20 as a new schoolteacher. His mother, Zhao Di (Ziyi Zhang), was 18 years old and immediately smitten with the young, handsome professional.
Their courtship is measured and discreet, but altogether endearing. She looks for excuses to cook for him; he politely accepts the food and looks for ways to express his feelings. Her mother (Bin Li) tells her to forget the teacher, because he’s of a much higher class than they are.
Teacher has some “political trouble” (it’s 1958, and China is not exactly a free and open society) and must leave town for a while. Di waits for him.
The courtship flashback occupies the bulk of the film and is important to establish what is going on in the present. The old Di (now played by Yuelin Zhao) wants to observe an old custom: She wants to carry her husband’s coffin from the city, where he died, back to the village, where he will be buried. The idea is to walk the departed back so he won’t forget the way home. This custom, we’re told, has not been followed “since the Cultural Revolution.”
Director Zhang Yimou also gave us last year’s equally charming “Not One Less,” also about a schoolteacher and the great worth of every soul. “The Road Home” is more a love story than anything, but it also speaks gently of the value of teachers and respect for old customs, whether they’re reasonable or just superstitious. It is an old-fashioned and heartfelt film.
B+ (; )