Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Tuya de hun shi
Working land that is slowly becoming a desert is challenging for a family of Mongolian sheep herders, and their personal situation isn’t helping: Ba’toer injured himself while building a well and is bedridden, meaning that his wife Tuya has to take care of their land, animals and two young children.
When she injures her back she is threatened with the possibility of being put out of service as well, a doctor takes x-rays and tells her that she could induce paralysis if she doesn’t lighten her load. Ba’toer insists on them getting divorced, as he can go live with his sister and she can marry someone who can take care of her; Tuya agrees, but only on the condition that whoever marries her agrees to let Ba’toer live with them.
Finding a suitor who is amenable to this caveat is no easy feat, but even as the proposals come in and men turn away at the thought of living with a woman’s ex-husband, she remains firm and never softens on her standard. An old school friend who has hit the big bucks shows up and agrees to her conditions and their problems appear to be solved, but the emotional complications of the situation begin to appear very quickly, as Tuya’s loyalty is never in danger of softening.
Helping things is neighbour and friend Sen’ge, who has a genuine affection for this family and a chummy friendship with Tuya that comes in handy in some pretty dicey situations, he could be an option as well except that he is also married to an offscreen wife who sounds like she’s more than a handful for him.
It’s a story about urbanization destroying the peaceful and productive lives of agricultural workers, as well as the disasters that these poor villagers are tragically vulnerable to, but it’s told with a sweet sense of subtle, humorous irony, an intelligent but never smug tale of characters whose playing with matters of the heart ends up being so much more complicated than they ever thought it would be.
Nan Yu is exceptional in the lead role, her powerful personality easily challenging the power of the vast, arid landscapes against which her notable figure stands.
Berlin Film Festival Award: Golden Bear