The Road Home
This is a beautiful, simple love story directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, etc.) and starring Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, etc.). It tells in one long flashback the story of a young woman in a poor Chinese village who becomes enchanted with the city gentleman who comes to help build a new schoolhouse and teach the children of the village. She takes every chance she can to observe the teacher and come close to him. Every day she waits on a hill by the path that he walks just to observe him from a distance; she walks the extra distance to the well by the schoolhouse, passing up a closer well, just so she can hear his voice as he teaches the children. When you think about it, her behavior is almost obsessive, but Ziyi is so enchanting and believable that everything she does seems natural and true. Besides, I think we all tend to get a little obsessive when we're in love/infatuated.
The film begins and ends with the teacher's son and widow making preparations for his funeral. These portions of the film are shot in black and white while the flashback which constitutes the majority of the film is in vivid color, which I found to be very effective at invoking the pervasive melancholy that accompanies death, especially as it is contrasted with the beauty and hope of the new love. The Road Home ends with a scene that made me think of that beautiful ending to It's a Wonderful Life where all the people who have been touched by George Bailey come together to give a little back. The deceased school teacher had touched so many lives so profoundly that these people felt compelled to express their appreciation with a simple, subdued, collective act of tribute, carrying and accompanying his casket on the titular road home so that he wouldn't forget his way. We regard this act of tribute from afar, as if it is so sacred and private that our immediate presence would be an intrusion.
This is a slow film. If you're not in the right mindset it might become boring. But I was captivated, first of all by Ziyi Zhang's always enchanting presence, and second by the truth and beauty illustrated on the screen.