Photo above and below from “A Home Far Away” – courtesy Visions du Réel
The second review on this site of a film to be shown at Visions du Réel 2012, has been written by Trish Thalman. Trish is originally from California and lives in Gland and has been reviewing films for this site for the previous two years. Read her personal footnote to the film at the end of this review and see a trailer of the film.
“A Home Far Away” directed by Peter Entell. Screening Sunday 16:30 at the Salle Communale, and Monday at 12:15 at the Capitole 1 Cinema. Note: Tickets can now be bought in advance for each screening via the Visions du Réel website or at the central box office in Rue des Marchandises near the Salle Communale.
The opening scene of this compelling, historical and bittersweet film shows a large bulldozer on a cold winter day in Switzerland, taking a bite out of the roof of the former home of Edgar Snow, his wife Lois Wheeler Snow and their family, now empty and without purpose. It is a strong visual metaphor for the unfolding story. We will see the house razed to the ground during the documentary. Life changes things.
The film gives us the first person, face-to-face account from Lois Wheeler Snow, still a strong minded and proud, articulate woman at age 90. We learn of the exciting, happy life she shared with Edgar from their early courtship in the 40’s, when she was a Broadway and Hollywood actress, and Edgar was a world acclaimed journalist, right up until last year when the film was made. Edgar’s seminal work, ‘Red Star over China’ in 1937, introduced Mao Zedong and the Chinese Cultural Revolution to the world, and made him famous and controversial at the same time.
Eventually they would marry and have two children. Lois would continue acting, and then move into TV in the 50’s. She would find herself ‘blacklisted’, unable to get work, because of the McCarthy Era and the House Un-American Activities Investigations related to people, particularly writers and actors, who were identified as having Communist ‘sympathies’.
The Snows left the US and moved to the Lake Geneva Region in ’59. Their intention was to be in Europe for one year and then return to the US. The Swiss welcomed the family and acknowledged Edgar’s prestige in China and around the world.
Lois admits that she had a nice life in Switzerland, and did not miss the theatre, “until later”. She felt lost and isolated, as nobody in Switzerland knew her or of her theatrical career. She looses her US theatre contacts. She wants her old life back. The Snow family never return to America. They remain ‘transplanted’ in Switzerland.
Lois goes to China for the first time with Edgar in 1970. His previous visit to China was in 1960. She is pleasantly surprised at what she sees in China, and warms to the very special welcome they receive from Mao. But, Edgar feels puzzled and deceived; the Revolution is not making changes he expected to see. Truth is vague. It is Edgar’s last visit to China. He is ill and will die 2 years later.
We are given insight to the scrapbook of Lois’ life with Edgar, along with her belief and support of the Cultural Revolution, and then life without Edgar. After the ’89 Tiananmen Square Massacre, Lois goes to Beijing, stands-up to and opposes the Chinese saying “you are wrong”.
There are wonderful, warm personal film-clips, photos, and memorabilia along with Lois’ wistful comments to the camera about life in the US, Switzerland and China, and the impact of Edgar’s China association in their lives. She has to make decisions about what to throw away in the house, and from her life, before the demolition gang arrive. She will be moving on. Her life story continues, but without items from her previous life. The memories remain.
As the house comes down, there is sadness, yet acceptance of her life now, and what once was: beliefs and ideals, hopes and dreams. Everything changes. There is loss. Lois comments to the live camera “the past becomes the past”. She has changed. China has changed.
Trish’s personal footnote to the film
“The closing shot of Lois in new flat shows the framed poster that appears behind her in old family film footage. I had that poster too. It got wrecked. It says: ” War is not healthy for children and other living things”. We (my generation) all had that poster and ‘quoted’ it quite often”.
See U tube trailer of film here