Part of a series dealing with Chinese cinema. 电影 (diànyǐng) is the Chinese word for movie, the two characters literally meaning “electric” and “shadow.”
图雅的婚事 (Tuya's Marriage)
This 2006 Chinese production is set in Inner Mongolia. It was directed by 王全安 (Wang Quan'an) and stars 余男 (Yu Nan). It provides and interesting mix of drama and humor that feels very true-to-life.
Yu Nan is actually from Dalian, not Inner Mongolia, but to me at least she seems completely convincing riding a horse or camel. All of the dialogue in in Mandarin, though there is some Mongolian singing.
She plays a poor woman with a herd of sheep, a camel, a horse, two children, and a disabled husband named Batoer.
They live in a compound of buildings with no running water; they have a little electricity from a windmill on the roof. They have a neighbor named Shenge who provides a lot of comic relief.
We first meet him lying in the road. He got drunk and wrecked his motorcycle, and luckily he's not seriously injured. He was drinking because his wife left him for another man, something which apparently happens quite often.
Along with their other problems, these people are faced with a constant shortage of water. Batoer's injury was sustained while he was trying to dig a well near the house. Without the well, Tuya has to travel to a spring 15km away once or twice a day...
...in addition to tending the sheep, cooking the meals, and acquiring supplies. Shenge helps out sometimes.
When Tuya hurts her back, it becomes apparent that their lives can't continue as they have. Batoer's sister offers to take care of her brother.
So a plan develops: Tuya and Batoer will get divorced, and Tuya will only marry a man who promises to allow Batoer to live with them and be cared for.
I'm not sure whether it's because of Tuya's reputation as a hard worker, or just that there is a shortage of women in the area, but as soon as word of the divorce gets out, suitors start arriving at their house.
After a couple of less than appealing candidates, a man named Baolier shows up in a Mercedes. He went to middle school with Tuya and always liked her. Since leaving the area, he's become a rich man in the oil business.
The whole family gets into the car and Baolier drives to a nursing home in the city. The plan is that Batoer can live there, and Tuya and the kids will move into Baolier's mansion in another city.
It's a long drive to the city where Baolier lives, so they stop at a hotel, and we get to see Tuya dressed in more contemporary clothing.
But, like so much in Tuya's life, things start to go wrong. There is eventually a wedding, but I won't tell you who she decides to marry.
One of the things I really loved about the movie was the music. It was all very Mongolian sounding, with prominent use of the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and traditional singing (though not throat singing).
The vast open space of the Mongolian plane provides stark settings of great loneliness. Everything is far away, and there are no easy means of communication.
Life is very hard in this place, and the strange decisions they make (like the divorce and finding a new husband) are the only way the people can get by. They're doing the best they can in the circumstances.
I believe many of the actors in this film were not professionals, though Yu Nan is well known and has been in many other movies, including a couple of non-Chinese movies (Diamond Dogs and Speed Racer). She was wonderful in this part, which is obviously far from her own personal experience. And in this role, she certainly didn't look anything like she does on a red carpet:
It is available from Netflix.