TOGETHER (Chen Kaige, 2002)

Xiaochun is 13 years old; he has been playing the violin since he was three. He lives with his father, a cook, in a provincial town. Liu Cheng, understanding that his son is a prodigy, ups and moves with him to Beijing, where Xiaochun’s prospects for advancement will be much greater. Chen Kaige’s He ni zai yi qi, from China and South Korea, is about their adventures there and about their bond, with a traumatic disclosure of wildly improbable family history waiting in the wings.
     Chen once made something so fiercely beautiful as Yellow Earth (1984); and, if it reflects a descent from poetry into prose, Farewell, My Concubine (1993) nonetheless redeemed its lesser artistic ambition with good “visual storytelling.” But where does this father-son film, called Together in the U.S., leave us? It isn’t treacle exactly; call it instead “warmly sentimental.” There are peripheral observations of Old versus New China, as reflected in Beijing, but these are given without edge or much context. The relationship between the boy and his first tutor in Beijing, Jiang (Wang Zhiwen, wonderful, still young although beaten down on Poverty Row—best acting prizes, Golden Phoenix, Hundred Flowers, Golden Rooster Awards), reaches a sentimental finish when Jiang, experiencing a Prospero-moment, announces with heroic acceptance, “Our lessons end here,” and Xiaochun’s next teacher, Professor Yu, whose social status greatly exceeds Jiang’s, is played by Chen himself. (Chen Hong, Chen’s wife, also appears in an important role.) Note that Yu wears a sweater the same color as Liu Cheng’s cap—the color, also, of Liu’s own sweater later on, and his son’s pull-over, his father’s gift before a big music competition. Yu completes Liu’s plan for Xiaochun. Liu’s humility and capacity for self-sacrifice, we discover, are contagious.
     Chen: best director, San Sebastián.

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