West Coast Premiere
Director/Screenwriter: Pema Tseden
Producers: Wu Leilei, Wang Xuebo Cinematographer: Lu Songye
Art Director: Daktse Dundrupp Editors: Gregorius Arya, Song Bing
Sound: Dukar Tserang Music: Wang Jue
Cast: Shide Nyima, Yangshik Tso
DCP | b&w | in Tibetan with English subtitles | 123 min.
On the dusty plateau of Qinghai province, 40-year-old Tharlo lives alone and herds sheep. People know him by his nickname, Ponytail, and for his fabulous memory that allows him to recite entire passages of Mao’s Little Red Book. One day, by police order, he has to get to town to get an ID card done. The film follows his transformation, through a chance encounter with Yangchuo, a young hairdresser, into a Renoir-ian character like in La Chienne (1931). As often in Pema’s previous work, Tharlo’s structure radiates around a single, 10-minute shot.
In the cheap barbershop Tharlo sits in front of a mirror, Yangchuo standing behind him. On a small table, there is a pile of banknotes. Tharlo keeps adding more banknotes to the pile, and asks the girl to put the money away. She returns, massages the top of his head, and asks him to let her cut his ponytail, so he won’t be recognized. He nods his assent and closes his eyes. As the shot continues to unfold, she shaves his head. Even though we suspect Yangchuo to be a swindler and a cheat, she seems to be overcome by the solemnity of the operation.
When this is over, Tharlo looks at the mirror, discovering with tears in his eyes, his new persona. In this gaze, it is no longer the fictional Tharlo, but television comedian Shide Nyima whose 17-year-old ponytail was a trademark, who is looking at himself, registering the loss. There is no turning back in this poignant merging of fiction and reality. Tharlo/Shide offers himself to the ministrations of the femme fatale, who enacts the mise en scène decided by the director, with the entire cast and crew holding their breath, because there will be no second take.
– Bérénice Reynaud
Born in Qinghai, Pema Tseden, an ethnic Tibetan, is also a published writer in Chinese and Tibetan. Since his thesis at the Beijing Film Academy, Grassland (rTswa thang / 草原, 2004), and his celebrated first feature, The Silent Holy Stones (Lhing vjags kyi ma ni rdo vbum / 静静的嘛呢石, 2005), his films have been shot in Tibetan, in his native province, and delve into multiple facets of the push-pull resistance-erosion of Tibetan culture faced by the double encroachment of Chinese domination and pervading modernity. Other works include The Search (Tshol ba / 寻找智美更登, 2009) and Old Dog (Khyi Rgan / 老狗, 2011).
This program is presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences