I recently watched the movie Chinese movie The Road Home directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Zhang Ziyi. It’s a movie about two lovers set in the countryside of 1960s China whose courtship is interrupted by greater political events shaking the country. If you want to watch a happy, care-free summer movie, don’t pick The Road Home. It’s quite melancholy. While watching, I wrote down the absolute saddest scene of the film.
The young male teacher Luo Changyu who’s been sent by the Communists from the city to educate village children tells Zhang Ziyi’s character Zhao Di that he’s leaving the village for what rumors say is “political questioning.” Zhao Di said she’s made mushroom dumplings and urges him should have some before leaving. For some reason, he leaves before eating even though he just said he would. She takes a bowl of freshly made dumplings and hopelessly chases after the horse-drawn carriage that’s taking him away. She runs and runs, with horrible form I might add. She runs awkwardly with both hands holding the bowl of dumplings which is secured by a smaller bowl cupped on top and a towel binding them. I bet she would’ve run faster if she’d just tucked that bowl in the crook of her elbow like a football running back.
Up until this point, the courtship between them has been furtive glances, shy conversations, and having the teacher over at her mother’s house for dinner once. Neither Zhao Di nor Luo Changyu know whether he’ll be able to return. This might be the last time they see each other.
Anyways, the running scene is long. The entire time you watch her chasing after this carriage which is must faster than her. You know she won’t catch it, but you hope she knows some shortcut that’ll let her cut in front of the carriage’s position. And then she stumbles, the bowl flies out of her hands, shatters on the ground, and dumplings scatter everywhere. She looks at the dumplings, then at the disappering carriage, and cries.
This is the saddest scene in the movie. First of all because perfectly good food has been wasted. Second of all because, well, perfectly good food has been wasted!
I just watched the scene where as she’s weaving a piece of bright red cloth, she hears multiplication table chanting coming from the school house. She leaves her loom and runs out in the middle of the harsh winter day to the school (which is just a single room) only to find she was imagining it. The school room is empty. She comes back with thin yellow paper which she uses to recover the windows which are simply wooden frames put into square holes in the walls. Glass is expensive. The main musical theme of the movie is plays again. Zhao Di cleans and scrubs down the entire room. Now she’s sitting at one of the student benches staring blankly at the blackboard.