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Under the Hawthorn Tree

Posted by martinteller on September 30, 2012

During China’s Cultural Revolution, student Jing (Dongyu Zhou) is sent to the countryside to learn some things from the local farmers.  There she meets Sun (Shawn Dou), a young man working there as part of a geological survey.  The two fall in love.  But Jing’s family is under close scrunity, and her father — a capitalist — is a political prisoner.  Any wrong move could jeopardize Jing’s future, and her protective mother is wary of the relationship.

Easily Zhang Yimou’s best film since Riding Alone, and maybe his best since the 1990’s.  Although you could rightfully accuse it being maudlin, especially at the end, it’s still a grade A tearjerker.  Zhou and Dou are both great finds and have such a tender, sweet chemistry together.  And I might add, both are adorable.  Most of the focus is on Jing, who establishes herself as a considerate and conscientious character, but given to impulsive decisions.  Impulsiveness is the privilege of youth, especially smitten youth.  But under Mao’s stifling regime (the song and dance she and her classmates perform is almost hilarious in its brainwashingness) every choice must be carefully considered.  Zhang criticizes the Party — or at least the Party of this era — with a subtle touch.

Adapting from a novel, Zhang makes extensive, but not intrusive, use of intertitles to abbreviate action and keep the drama small and focused.  In conjunction with the lovely cinematography and endearing performances, it adds up to a beautiful story, beautifully told.  I think it’s high time I revisited The Road Home.  It seemed trite at the time, but given Zhang’s deft handling of young romance here, I owe it a second look.  Rating: Very Good (84)


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