Published Aug 21, 2008Part ethnographic exploration of the impact that a Chinese socio-capitalist state has on an ancient Mongolian traditions and part romantic comedy of errors and misunderstandings, Tuyas Marriage is a deliberately slow mediation on a way of life without a great deal of dramatic heft and some awkward transitions. It works when lingering on particularly arduous elements of a remote, nomadic lifestyle but stumbles when some of the more overwritten aspects unexpectedly find their on screen.
After her husband, Batoer, becomes crippled while digging a well, Tuya (Yu Nan) is forced to take care of him and her two children, Senge and Zhaya, while suffering through a regular regiment of sheepherding and gruelling 30-kilometre treks to collect water and hay. It understandably starts to take a toll on her, which culminates in an injury she suffers while helping her unhappily married and overly helpful neighbour, Shenge, out of a difficult situation.
Saddled with the realities of not being able to support her family, Tuya and Batoer pragmatically decide to divorce so she can get remarried and have her family taken care of. A variety of unlikely suitors seek out Tuya but quickly back off when they realize that they will have to also take care of her invalid husband.
The majority of the secondary characters are Mongolian non-actors performing. Its an interesting approach, as is the decision to film in Mandarin when the characters would logically be speaking Mongolian, but doesnt detract from the overall quality. Yu Nan capably carries the picture on her shoulders through forlorn glances and an understandably rigid demeanour.
While Tuyas inability to see Shenges overt romantic pandering is slightly incongruous and confusing, her capitalist approach to romance mixed with a familial obligation parallels the encroaching Chinese landscape effectively. She has only herself and her sheep to barter with and struggles to maintain her ideals while accepting economic realities and fundamentals.
Being both flawed and successful, Tuyas Marriage is interesting for a variety of reasons despite its inability to fully connect on an emotional level or flow naturally. Art house auds should appreciate its individuality but less patient viewers will stir in their seats somewhere around the fourth ten-minute camel ride to pick up water or hay. (Kinosmith)