news of yet more outrageous but hardly surprising interference in Tibetan affairs,
China has just announced an open-ended ban on foreign tourism to the occupied
country. However, friends and admirers
of the Himalayan nation can still get a glimpse into the on-the-ground
realities there through Pema Tseden’s narrative feature Old Dog (trailer
screens tonight at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, as part of the 2012 BrooklynFilm Festival.
content with Tibet’s sovereignty, China also covets its dogs. For the Chinese nouveau riche, nomad mastiffs
are the newest status symbol. It is a
seller’s market, assuming unscrupulous dog merchants do not steal the
traditional family canines first. Dog-nappings
are so pervasive, Gonpo figures he might as well sell his father-in-law Akku’s
beloved pet and at least get some money for him. Akku does not see it that way, enlisting the
help of his a local copper kinsman to retrieve the shaggy pooch. Unfortunately, the dog brokers are not about
to forget about so prized a pooch.
Jia Zhangke remade Old Yeller, it
might look something like Old Dog. Helmed by Tibetan auteur Pema Tseden (a.k.a.
Wanma Caidan when he is in China), it is a slight departure for distributor dGenerate Films, the independent Chinese cinema specialists. However, Tseden’s naturalistic
documentary-like approach is quite in line with the Digital Generation style
for which they are named. He and
cinematographer Sonthar Gyal capture the sweeping grandeur of the landscape, as
well as the hardscrabble nature of life for Tibetans, both in cities and in the
countryside. It is also clear the last fifty-three
years have been devastating for contemporary Tibetan architecture.
a cast clearly at home on the Tibetan Steppe, Lochey gives a remarkably assured
performance as Akku. Deeply human and
humane, his character bears witness to the steady corrosion of traditional
Tibetan values, but he does not necessarily do so silently. Drolma Kyab’s performance as the hash-up
son-in-law Gonpo is also quite honest and engaging. Indeed, the small ensemble is so completely
unaffected and natural on-screen, Old Dog
could easily pass for a documentary.
Yet, it has a very real dramatic arc.
the focus of a career retrospective at the Asia Society (amounting to two films
at the time), Tseden is a filmmaker of international stature. Taking some subtly implied but recognizable jabs
at Chinese hegemony over Tibet, Old Dog is
his boldest film yet. Cineastes will earnestly
hope there will be more to follow. Quietly
powerful, Old Dog is highly
recommended during this year’s BFF. It
screens tonight (6/8) at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, with Tseden appearing for
Q&A afterward, as well as this Saturday (6/9) at IndieScreen in
Labels: BFF '12, Dog movies, Pema Tseden, Tibetan cinema