Mosuo people are considered somewhat exotic in China, but that is a decidedly
mixed blessing. Their traditional
matriarchal way of life is slipping away, but there are opportunities to
perform in Tibetan themed bars and dancehalls, at least for the pretty
ones. This again is a dramatically mixed
blessing. When the impact of the global
financial crisis forces the siblings to return home from Beijing, they start to
rethink their long term plans in Marlo Poras’s The Mosuo Sisters (trailer here), which screens during the
proceeding-as-scheduled DOC NYC 2012.
and Latso’s Himalayan Village is close to exactly nowhere. Returning home after their employer shutters
her Beijing bar is an arduous, depressing journey. For Latso, the younger sister, it is a
particularly bitter pill to swallow.
Having enrolled in an accounting class, she had hoped to support her
family with a more professional career. Now
she is returning, knowing full well it will be difficult to leave again. Indeed, it is Juma, the superior earning who is
sent out (this time for Chengdu), while her mother keeps her home to work on
their hardscrabble farm.
hopes the sisters will reap some benefit from Poras’s film, especially if it
airs on public television. After
production wrapped, their village was shook by an earthquake, which leveled
their family’s home. Currently living in
tents according to the film’s facebook page, their family could use some of
those kickstarter funds.
before disaster struck, the year and a half Poras spent with the sisters
dramatically illustrates Socialist China’s vast economic inequalities. Being an ethnic minority is also a dubious
distinction for the sisters. It is
intriguing, but often for the wrong reasons, to the wrong people. For instance, Juma must often endure
misconceptions about Mosuo “Walking Marriages.”
Roughly, they are procreative arrangements, in which the wife and
husband live in their mothers’ households, but jointly raise their children
during evenings spent together. Often
deliberately misunderstood as an institution fostering promiscuity, they are
course, the status of China’s ethnic minorities has always been rather tenuous,
particularly during the Cultural Revolution.
However, Poras keeps the focus exclusively on the sisters’ here and
now. Blessed with natural screen
presence, viewers will definitely root for them. They might be from the middle of nowhere, but
they are not bumpkins. In fact, they are
quite intelligent and extremely sensitive.
Yet, the way they evolve and mature over this period of time is surprising.
not even covered in the film’s post-script, the current condition of the
sisters’ family speaks volumes about the nature of the Chinese government. We witness first-hand how unabashed gangsters
thrive in a city like Chengdu, but education is practically a luxury. Poras’s frequent shots of Chairman Mao’s
portrait staring down on the proceedings add an unmistakable layer of irony to
their difficult struggle for survival.
A number of unvarnished documentaries addressing
China’s social ills have been released internationally in recent years, but Mosuo Sisters has a somewhat different
angle. It captures a vanishing culture
and features two primary POV figures who completely win over audience
sympathies. Strongly recommended, particularly
for China watchers, Mosuo Sisters screens
this Saturday (11/10) at the IFC Center.
If you go, also bring some cash in case they pass the hat for the
sisters’ family. Consider it a helping hand
extended from one disaster area to another.
Labels: DOC NYC '12, Documentary, The Mosuo