I was recently looking through my DVD collection to prune it, an annual task that gets harder as the years go on. I hooked out my copy of this film from 1999 and was reminded of how much I liked it. Some films sit int he memory only to be disappointing on the second viewing, especially if there are many years between them. Others, though, stand the test of time and this gentle film from China is onesuch.
As is often the case, the route to the story is through the present. In this case, successful businessman Luo Yusheng returns to his home village for the funeral of his father. The story of how his mother and fther met and fell in love is then revealed to us. His father was the young school teacher, sent to the village to take up his post at a school that the local people are building for his arrival. As was traditional, the men built the school building while the young women prepared meals for the workers. Young Zhao Di is attracted to the young teacher and hopes every day that he will choose the meal she prepared.
Through glances and smiles, the courtship of the two young people begins. When the teacher is recalled to the city, Zhao Di waits for him even in the falling snow and becomes so ill everyone thinks she may die. The teacher returns to the village secretly on hearing this and their love is sealed.
In the modern section of the story, Zhao Di, now an old woman, insists that the coffin of her husband is carried back through the hills to their village by foot so that his spirit will always know the way back home. The local Mayor is worried that there are insufficient young men to do the task so the son insists on paying for porters. When the time of the funeral comes, over 100 people turn out and nobody will take payment. This was their way of honouring their teacher.
There are parts that are sentimental but the film as a whole is spare rather than sickly sweet and it reminds us that love is where it falls. The life long dedication of the couple is made more significant by the fact that we see their coming together while knowing that the son is arranging his father’s funeral under his mother’s instructions.
‘The Road Home’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?