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Beautiful and true
on 21 February 2007
An old village teacher gets caught in a snowstorm while trying to raise funds for a new schoolhouse and dies of heart failure. His grown son comes home from the city to village elders hoping he'll convince his grieving mother to accept a truck or a tractor to transport the corpse back to the village for burial. His mother insists that his friends from the village should carry the coffin on "the road home" in accordance with ancient customs. The village elders and the son all agree that this is unreasonable but make allowances for an old woman in her grief while trying to think of ways to change her mind. But the son gradually comes around to his mother's way of thinking, coming up with a little practical compromise -- he will pay for people to carry his father home in place of the village's young who have all left -- and then finds himself surprised by the turnout as his father makes his last journey home.
The film begins in the present in black and white, enhancing the wintry conditions and the bare poverty of his mother's home and of the village as well as the widow's grief. But as his memory returns to the past, his parents' love story comes to life in gorgeous colour. This transition is not unknown in film (see "Bonjour Tristesse") but its use here is especially effective: the meadows and the trees, the hills, the narrow dirt road, the simple structures, the rustic clothes bloom on the screen in all their hues. The girl's mother lacking sight is almost an irony in all the vivid colour of the past, but you realize that she is no less attuned to her daughter and the goings-on around her. The blacks and whites especially suit the starkness of the village and the snow-covered road in winter and emphasize the cold, bare rooms of the old family home and the old woman's pain. Funnily enough, it also sits well with the affection and the respect that become apparent as the villagers and former students take it in turn to carry their old teacher home.
Loaded with nostalgia and the most cherished human values, bright with an innocence and rich with a romance one suspects have long departed from cinema, "The Road Home" reminds us of what we may have lost in the drive to progress and modernize: there's more to life than getting ahead or the next big thing. We don't always have to leave the past behind. Old customs have meaning. No matter when or where you go, people are different and the same.