Tuya’s Marriage

April 25, 2008

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Today, in his regular film commentary, Milos Stehlik of Facets Multimedia takes a look at the Mongolian film that won the Golden Bear award at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival...          

It's not easy being Tuya. She is a Mongolian shepherdess living in the mountainous highlands. Water is scarce and has to be carried from a well far away. Tuya's husband is disabled. He was permanently hurt in a well-digging accident. The husband and their two kids are all on Tuya's shoulders. She bears it all boldly: this woman could take on any man.

TUYA'S MARRIAGE, a Chinese film directed by Wang Quan An, which won the Golden Bear at last year's Berlin Film Festival, is beautiful for its depiction of Tuya's resilience, and for pitting the lives of ordinary people against the majestic landscapes of the highland steppes.

Tragedy strikes when Tuya dislocates her shoulder as she tries to pull out a man pinned underneath an overturned truck. Something clearly has to give. Bater, the husband, , comes up with a novel solution. Tuya and he should get divorced, and she should remarry. One condition: the new husband should take care of Bater and the children.

Tuya's availability sets the hearts of potential suitors aflutter, and they arrive at Tuya's isolated house, driving over dirt roads, at breakneck speed. The decision comes down to two men. The most promising is Baolier. He is Tuya's divorced schoolmate who has done well– he struck oil. The other is Tuya's friend Senge. He is a neighbor who often helps out and whose own wife ran away, stealing his truck. Though he is the natural choice for Tuya's bridegroom-to-be,  he is too shy to propose.

So Baolier triumphs, and after the wedding, he packs Tuya and the family in his Mercedes, takes off for the city, dropping Bater off in a nursing home. Then he takes Tuya off to an inn where he forces his attention on her. Baolier is clearly the new-breed capitalist who has lost his way in the world of greed and commerce. In his world, all things are solved with money, and they should happen big and now. Unfortunately Bater is lonely in the nursing home, gets drunk and slashes his wrist. He is rescued and the movie has a hopeful ending.

TUYA'S MARRIAGE is a simple story, grafted onto an ethnographic background. Tuya and her family live at the edge of time, defenseless against the changes encroaching on them from the outside world. Wang Quan An's film strives to give them dignity, authenticity and resilience.  Yu Nan, is beautiful and strong as Tuya;  many of the other roles are filled by non-actors.

In some ways, TUYA'S MARRIAGE – which is a good film but not a great one – is hurt by the fact that its narrative is too linear, its characters without added spiritual or emotional dimensions. It is too singly-dimensional and its story obvious.  It's too literal, .without a sense of fantasy or mystery.

Other films, for example the wonderful film by Russia's Nikita Mikhalkov, CLOSE TO EDEN or URDU, and, the first-rate feature by Xie Fei, MONGOLIAN TALE have plumbed similar artistic terrain with more panache.  In particular, MONGOLIAN TALE conveys a beautiful sense of the Mongolian community. The film follows the tragic destinies of two unrelated children who grow up as brother and sister and are meant for each other, though life keeps them apart. The layered emotional complexity of MONGOLIAN TALE surpasses the simple sentimentality of TUYA'S WEDDING...

Milos Stehlik's commentaries reflect his own views and not necessarily those of Facets Multimedia, Worldview or Chicago Public Radio.

Special Recipe:
Mongolian lamb patties or meatballs
Total time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 (makes 16 patties)
1 1/4 pounds ground lamb
4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped scallions (white and tender green parts)
2 cups chopped cilantro leaves and stems
3 tablespoons minced ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Vegetable or peanut oil
1. Place the lamb in a bowl and set aside. Place the garlic in a food processor and pulse to finely chop, then add the scallions, cilantro and ginger and pulse to mince them. (You can also do this by hand.) Add the mixture to the meat, along with the salt and pepper, and use your fingers to blend. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Scoop a scant 3 tablespoons (golf-ball size) of the chilled meat mixture and shape into a firm patty about 2 1/2 inches across and about an inch thick. Set the patties on a plate and repeat with the remaining mixture to make 16 patties.
3. Place a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add about 1 tablespoon oil. Add the patties in batches and pan fry for about 4 minutes on each side to cook through; add a little more oil if necessary. Alternatively, prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill. Grill the patties for about 4 minutes per side, or until done as you like. Serve with your choice of condiments.

Each patty: 93 calories; 7 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 7 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 21 mg. cholesterol; 239 mg. sodium.