Au­then­tic ap­peal

A Ti­betan film­maker fo­cuses on life in his home­town, re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Tharlo is Pema Tseden’s fifth fea­ture film, yet is his first to be screened in movie the­aters for what is tech­ni­cally known as a the­atri­cal re­lease.

The rea­son is sim­ple: Pema Tseden makes per­sonal films with no car chases, ex­plo­sions or spe­cial ef­fects. They are all sto­ries he knows in­ti­mately about peo­ple in the Ti­betan area of North­west China’s Qing­hai prov­ince, where he grew up.

The char­ac­ters speak mostly Ti­betan, and the new film is even pre­sented in stark black and white, with the rich tex­ture of a qual­ity pho­tog­ra­phy al­bum.

There is noth­ing touristy in Tharlo or Pema Tseden’s other movies. The Po­tala Palace makes only a cameo ap­pear­ance as the back­drop in a pho­tog­ra­phy store, to­gether with Bei­jing’s Tian’an­men Ros­trum and New York’s Statue of Lib­erty.

The only char­ac­ters don­ning tra­di­tional Ti­betan garb are a pair of walk-on roles in that photo lab, and they are soon asked to change into Western suits to fit the back­drop of a New York sky­line.

One is tempted to read var­i­ous mean­ings into such de­tails.

But the Ti­betans in Pema Tseden’s lens live or­di­nary lives. Ac­tu­ally, the male lead car­ries on a life of monotony as a shep­herd in the moun­tains, punc­tu­ated only by the howls of wolves. He tends to hun­dreds of sheep, some of which are placed in his care by a cus­tomer.

When Tharlo, the pro­tag­o­nist, is sent to the county town to take a photo for a new ID, the pro­pri­etor of the photo lab is not amused by his di­sheveled hair. He is sent across the street for a hair wash and it ends in a fate­ful en­counter with the beau­ti­ful and schem­ing hair­dresser who even­tu­ally runs away with his life sav­ing of 160,000 yuan ($23,500).

Although he does not seem to be an ed­u­cated man, Tharlo pon­ders big, philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions: Is he a good man or a bad one? Will he die with the weight of a moun­tain or the weight­less­ness of a feather?

The au­di­ence may ask these ques­tions of the femme fa­tale, but one gets enough room — and time — to di­rect one’s think­ing in any way one wants.

The ti­tle char­ac­ter is played by Shide Ny­ima, a mas­ter co­me­dian lo­cally known as “Ti­bet’s an­swer to Zhao Ben­shan”.

In the movie, he strips ev­ery comedic trace and im­parts an air of au­then­tic­ity as a weather-beaten sin­gle man, who suf­fers not so much from poverty as from work-re­lated hard­ships such as lone­li­ness. One won­der­swhatkind of trans­for­ma­tion he would go through in the face of ur­ban­iza­tion.

Yang­shik Tso plays the mys­tery woman whose se­duc­tion of Tharlo we hope would in­clude a mod­icum of ten­der­ness. In the hair-cut­ting scene rem­i­nis­cent of Sam­son and Dalila, she con­veys the com­plex­i­ties of her in­ner world, pos­si­bly her moral con­flicts, with noth­ing but fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

Though it has Pema Tseden’s trade­mark glacial pac­ing and static shots, Tharlo em­bod­ies fas­ci­nat­ing de­tails in both its vis­ual com­po­si­tions and its sound de­sign. The singing alone by var­i­ous char­ac­ters sug­gests an era of fast changes and cul­tural fu­sion, with folk songs, rap and other mu­sic styles shar­ing space on the sound­track.

“This movie is about eth­nic Ti­betans, but I hope peo­ple of all eth­nic­i­ties can re­late to it be­cause I be­lieve it can tran­scend racial and ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries,” says Pema Tseden, a grad­u­ate of the fa­mous Bei­jing Film Academy.

Pema Tseden started mak­ing movies in 2002. He is also the writer of the scripts of all his movies, many of which are adapted from his own nov­els and short sto­ries.

Last year, Tharlo en­tered the Hori­zons sec­tion of the Venice Film Fes­ti­val and was nom­i­nated in six cat­e­gories at theGold­enHorseAwards held in Tai­wan, win­ning best screen­play for Pema Tseden.

It opens on the main­land on Fri­day.

Jia Zhangke, a fore­run­ner in China’s art-house cin­ema, said at the movie’s pre­miere on Dec 5: “I won’t feel lonely with Pema Tseden and his work as we con­tinue on the jour­ney of giv­ing voice to the same age and the same coun­try.”

Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@ chi­


Tharlo, star­ring Shide Ny­ima, re­veals a weather-beaten man’s lone­li­ness in the face of trans­for­ma­tion.

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