Director Wang Quan’an’s “Tuya’s Marriage” has attained a high profile for a film which might otherwise have slipped under the international radar, thanks to a surprise win at the 57th Berlin Film Festival, where it took home the prestigious Golden Bear Award. As with Wang’s other films, “Tuya’s Marriage” again sees him tackling the difficult lives of women in rural regions, focusing this time on a female protagonist who is forced into a heart-rending decision by cruel economic necessity.
The film follows Tuya (Yu Nan, who has worked with the director on several previous occasions), a woman in remote Mongolia whose husband Baoter has been crippled, leaving her to care for their children and support the family single-handed. Despite the help of Shenge, a kind-hearted though unfortunate neighbour whose own wife has a nasty habit of running off with other men, it soon becomes clear that she cannot keep this up, and she makes the difficult decision to look for a new husband, though one who will agree not only to care for her, but also for poor Baoter.
Despite its rather depressing scenario, much like Tuya herself the film never wallows in misery and shows a decidedly practical manner in depicting and dealing with the various problems and tragedies thrown up by the harsh realities of life. However, this is not to say that the film is either unemotional or lacking in sympathy, as this approach makes the proceedings more convincing and effectively lends them a very human quality. This is furthered by the fact that director Wang even manages to find moments of gentle humour throughout, something which works well to bring the characters to life and to prevent things from ever becoming too dry.
“Tuya’s Marriage” works well as a slice of life drama, and although it never delves too deeply into the minds of its characters, largely defining them by their daily struggles, their stories are interesting and heartfelt enough to engage and entertain. Tuya herself is a strong character, carrying the film and her family on her shoulders, though showing enough touching glimpses of vulnerability to endear herself to the viewer. Crucially, her relationships with both the disabled and emasculated Baoter and the incompetent though well-intentioned Shenge are believable and moving, and Wang manages to balance the awkwardness of the film’s burgeoning romance with themes of devotion and duty. So whilst the film is a fairly basic affair which never really strays from familiar ground covered in the director’s previous efforts, and which avoids some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the story which might have offered the opportunity for more depth, it nevertheless achieves its modest aims.
Wang directs with a naturalistic, semi-documentary style that makes the most of the spectacular, though bleak scenery and local wildlife, with a nice mix of long shots and close ups that underline the characters being very much at the mercy of the forces of nature. He keeps things moving at a good pace, showing a good eye for detail whilst never neglecting the film’s dramatic elements. The only real flaw comes in the needless and artificial way in which Wang chooses to begin the film: with scenes from the climatic marriage. This serves no real purpose, since the direction of the plot is obvious throughout, and if anything it detracts from the overall sense of realism and any potential dramatic tension.
Fortunately, this annoyance doesn’t really detract from “Tuya’s Marriage” as an enjoyable and well made little film with a moving and unusual story at its heart. Certainly, it is easy to see why the film has proved a hit at international festivals, being a quiet, down to earth tale of life in a wild, faraway part of the world. And what the film perhaps lacks in ambition and complexity, it more than makes up for in honest humanity.
Quanan Wang (director) / Wei Lu, Quanan Wang (screenplay)
CAST: Nan Yu … Tuya
Bater … Bater
Sen’ge … Sen’ge
Zhaya … Zhaya