The key scene of this wonderful film about a father-son relationship happens towards the end. The father, a former painter whose life and career were crushed by the political troubles of the Cultural Revolution that China went through four decades ago visits the newly opened exhibition of his son’s paintings. He walks through the paintings which like in a time travel bring back the emotions of his son uneasy growing up. Then he stops in front of one work, representing the double portrait of child with blurred features and huge deep hunting and hunted eyes near the portrait of a man whose traits are hard to distinguish, hidden like by fog. The two portraits seem unrelated, but yet we feel that the boy’s uneasiness is related to the man’s portrait absence of clarity. The visiting father sits on a bench. Then his son joins him. Without a word the father extends his hand to his son as a sign of congratulation. It’s almost the only sign of father to son tenderness in the whole film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsqYcM9oQZQ

(video source keane43)

As many good movies ‘Sunflower’ can be read and interpreted at multiple levels. It is the story of a relationship between a father that is taken away from the child to find him back nine years later, a father who tends to dominate and control his son’s life beyond ‘normal’ father to son care, in an attempt to realize through his son’s talent and artistic training the destiny that was refused to him because of the convulsions of history. At this level the film is wonderfully helped by a team of actors were Bin Li and Joan Chen have the leading roles of the parents, and three different actors represent the phases of development of the boy, with Wang Haidi playing the key mature period. Another reading goes beyond the immediate dialogs and makes us reflect to the relation between individual and history in a country which underwent such profound transformations as China did in the last half century. History and politics play all the time a role in the film, they are present in the background even if politics are not openly discussed. A radio or TV set seem to be permanently open, family relations or lodging depend on low scale policies, and the very premises of the film are derived from a huge political event. On this perspective the relation between father and son may become a symbol of the relation between the older and newer generations of China, a country were new ways find their place and replace the older methods in economy and in the life of its citizens. In a country and tradition were elders are respected and order is the supreme governing principle, the story of a rebellious son has a stronger connotation. The title itself of Yang Zhan’s film can be interpreted in multiple ways – the presence of sunflowers in the action is paralleled by a picturesque resemblance of the flowers brought on screen with the famous sunflowers painted by Van Gogh, the supreme master of art rebellion.

At the end the father disappears completely from the life of his son, making him absent at the childbirth of his grandson in what seems to be a gesture of supreme sacrifice knowing his obsession with the life of his son continuing ans repairing his own life and the destiny of the previous generations. Yet, sunflowers are present, and we feel that in the life and spirit of the new generations there is a lot of what the elders induced. An almost Confucianist conclusion to the story of the relation between father and a rebellious son.