* Reviews from the Bangkok Film Festival

road home couple W FRAME      The Road Home: Love in the Time of Starvation

This is a dispatch from an early incarnation of the Bangkok International Film Festival, sometimes known as the Bangkok Film Festival. It appeared on a US website called CultureVulture. I’m leaving out the wrap-up and just running eight short reviews. Seems that my suspicions about Zhang Yimou’s shift in loyalties were right.

Here is the lowdown on the highlights and the hyped:

The Road Home

Perhaps Zhang Yimou’s new film, The Road Home, was so disappointing, dismaying actually, because it was so hyped. What happened to him? Could this be a piece of political penance? Zhang made his name in the early 1990s with gorgeous period films (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern) that dramatized the plight of women in traditional Chinese society. Zhang last year took an abrupt, grittier turn with the contemporary Not One Less. Inspired by recent shoestring Iranian films, he realized that the mundane triumphs and struggles of very ordinary people,such as a teenage village schoolteacher, could still make a gripping story. And he didn’t shirk from showing the dirt and ugliness of any Chinese city and village.

The Road Home and Not One Less share some superficial similarities. A 30-ish present-day businessman returns to his native village for the funeral of his father. As the film shifts from black-and-white to color, he dreamily recalls how his schoolteacher father–an “intellectual” by Chinese standards–met his illiterate mother when he came to teach in the new village school. There is plenty of potential drama here. But this isn’t a movie: it’s a treacly pink- and red-tinted extended music video that might illustrate a compilation of mournful flute tunes.We see many scenes of the mother as a fresh-faced girl–pretty, pig-tailed Zhang Ziyi–running in slow motion in the countryside, spying on the school and preparing dishes for the eligible bachelor. Eventually, the two exchange a few words on culinary matters.

That’s it. There is no further revealing conversation, no scenes in the classroom, no interactions with adults or children, none of the village itself, no further hints of the teacher’s “political problem.” No reminders of age-old shrines, customs, superstitions or workaday rhythms. We get no inkling how either this girl of leisure, the sole child of a blind widow, or her fellow villagers put food on the table.

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