Set in Mao's China, Zhang Yang's "Sunflower" is a tender and touching family drama that spans five decades, from 1967 to 2000. Xiangyang is only a baby when his father, Gengnian, an aspiring artist, is thrown into a "re-education camp" on a trumped-up charge of disloyalty to the state. When Gengnian is finally released and sent back to his family, Xiangyang is a nine-year-old boy with no memory of his dad and no interest in following in the old man's footsteps as a painter. This sets up an ongoing conflict between father and son that extends well into Xiangyang's early adulthood.
"Sunflower" is a subtle, thoughtful, deliberately paced look at just how much influence a parent can reasonably be expected to have over the life of a child, as Xiangyang comes to realize that until he can get out from under the thumb of his father, he has no real hope of ever becoming a fully independent man in his own right. For Gengnian, it's a matter of learning that he can't simply transfer all the thwarted and unfulfilled dreams he once had for his own life onto his son without eventually robbing the young man of his independence and breaking his spirit.
The screenplay is scrupulously fair to all parties as it astutely explores the universal truths of filial relationships - with unmannered performances and self-effacing direction adding greatly to the naturalism of the piece.
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