It’s a common trick: drop an audience into a scene in medias res—say, a woman breaking up a fight between two boys and bursting into tears—then recycle the image later after we’ve been privy to the buildup. In the case of Quanan Wang’s melodrama—a Golden Bear winner at last year’s Berlin Film Festival—the full-circle effect is appropriate. This is a movie that revolves around a looped notion of never-ending patriarchal messes—the more things change, the more women still have to take care of immature, petty males.
The weeping woman is Tuya (Yu), a shepherd living in the Mongolian outback who takes care of her kids, infirm husband (Bater) and their drunk, cuckolded neighbor (Sen’ge). Her crippled better half suggests Tuya find a new spouse; several packs of suitors, all acting like they’d just wandered out of a Kaurismäki comedy, come calling. There’s a catch: The second husband will have to take care of the first one.
By the time we return to that opening scene, we realize that no matter who wins, Tuya loses. We’ve also watched Wang belabor this point to death, which doesn’t detract from the film’s grace notes—notably Yu’s performance—but also doesn’t exactly make this neorealistic chronicle of rural life the deepest of profeminist parables.
Cast and crew