centuries, the sight of a shepherd with a pony tail has been common place in
Tibet. However, things have changed in the nation, just as the occupying power
intended. Filmmaker Pema Tseden often pointed out such truths—getting arrested
and badly battered for his efforts—or so international observers suspect.
Again, details are sketchy, just as the Communist authorities want them. The
circumstances surrounding Tseden’s incarceration and hospitalization makes the
piteous fate of his latest cinematic protagonist all the more poignant. In addition
to the cultural oppression, the CP occupation also has a corrosive moral
influence in Tseden’s Tharlo (trailer here), which opens a
week-long run this Wednesday at MoMA.
has come to the nearest provincial administrative center to receive his I.D. card,
but has no context for the errand. Frankly, he is not even used to being
addressed by name. Never before has he had to prove his identity. Of course, the
local police chief finds Tharlo’s bemusement amusing. He is also
condescendingly impressed by the Tibetan shepherd’s ability to recite a long
Chairman Mao speech, even though mostly of the ideological meaning is lost on
course, an I.D. card needs a photo, so Tharlo will have to visit the local
photographer catering to such business. She in turn sends him across the street
to get his hair washed by the hairdresser, Yangtso. She makes quite an
impression on the traditional herder with her short hair and modern attitudes.
She also happens to be young and attractive. The flirtatious time they share
together leads Tharlo to question his pastoral life, but his growing doubts
will distract him at inopportune times.
his own novella, Tseden creates a parable of modernist temptation and
subsequent downfall that eclipses Dreiser in its tragic significance. Although
the local authorities are not Tharlo’s direct antagonists, Tseden makes it
clear they created the climate that made his victimization possible. The film is also visually stunning thanks to
the vastly cinematic vistas of Tharlo’s Tibetan plains and Lu Songye’s stark
the rugged locales, Tharlo is a
relentlessly intimate film filled with uncomfortable silences and telling
moments. As the title character, Tibetan comedian Shide Nyima looks like his
picture should be in the dictionary next to the term “world-weary.” His
haggardness is plain to see, but his innocence is just as palpable. He and
Tibetan actress-vocalist Yangshik Tso develop some highly ambiguous but
undeniably potent romantic chemistry together. Rather than just playing the
femme fatale, she gives the worldly Yangtso subtle flesh and blood dimension.
Initially, Tharlo’s ability to rattle off Mao’s
secular sermon seems rather surreal, but the third act reprise is so bitterly
ironic it might leave an aftertaste of bile behind. Yet, Tseden is primarily a
stroryteller, who only lets political implications seep in through osmosis. Nevertheless,
there is clearly more truth in his films (such as Old Dog) than the Party is comfortable with. Highly recommended for
viewers with adult attention spans, Tharlo
opens this Wednesday (9/28) at MoMA.
Labels: MoMA, Pema Tseden, Tibet, Tibetan cinema