Sunflower knows a thing or two about child-parent dynamics. Spanning three decades in Beijing following the 1976 revolution that saw not only a change in political power but also a gradual shift from traditional to more modern cultural values, the film depicts the conflict between Xiangyang and his father Gengnian (Sun Haiying) during three crucial stages in the boy’s bourgeoning maturity. At age 9, Xiangyang (Zhang Fan) has no recollection of his father, whose return home after a six-year stay in a political “re-education” camp arouses the child’s suspicions. A former painter now crippled by the torture and hard labor he experienced, Gengnian wants only to see his son succeed where he no longer can, and though his intentions in raising an obedient child are good, his hardened view of the world renders his strict methods both cruel and vicarious (in one heartbreaking scene, Xiangyang is forbidden to go with his friends to the movies until he has finished a still life). Come adolescence and adulthood, the tensions between the two are more or less a given, with Xiangyang’s strong sense of individuality standing in direct conflict with his parents’ unwavering expectations. The film’s writers do their coming-of-age story justice by emphasizing not only on the experiences of the child but of the adults as well, focusing less on the unfolding drama between the two generations than on the motivations driving them. Repeatedly are the characters’ actions tangibly influenced by the specifics of their sociopolitical context, to which the film gives a refreshing amount of attention. Were the film’s visual aesthetics a match for its emotional ones, Sunflower might have been something for the books. Unfortunately, Jong Lin’s cinematography is an exercise in both inconsistency and extreme mundanity, with the majority of the film consisting of little more than a predictable pattern of close-ups and wide shots with little concern for composition or the emotive rhythms of editing. Consider Sunflower, then, to be a much better film in theory than in practice.
- New Yorker Films
- 129 min
- Zhang Yang
- Zhang Yang, Cai Shangjun, Huo Xin
- Sun Haiying, Joan Chen, Liu Zifeng, Zhang Fan, Gao Ge, Wang Haidi, Hong Yihao, Li Bin, Liang Jing, Zhang Yue, Li Yeping
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: