About the experiences of a Beijing family - seen largely through the eyes of its youngest member, Tietou - between 1953 and 1967, Tian's epic domestic drama is a direct, honest account of how Mao's policies affected the lives of ordinary people. While the steadily darkening tale makes for a film at least partly about death and absence, it focuses not on those who are exiled or die, but on those left behind. Tian's method is understatement, with the result that the trials faced by Shujuan (Lu Liping), her brothers and sister, her three husbands and her son Tietou become all the more plausible and affecting. There's an immense amount of telling detail, and Tian manages to express both sympathy and righteous anger without once resorting to bombast or sentimentality. A masterly blend of the personal and the political.