Thursday, February 12, 2015

Notes on Gtsngbo (River) by Sonthar Gyal, China (Tibet): 2015-Berlinale 2015-VII.-Generation Kplus

In the program brochure the film is defined as a documentary, which is hard for me to believe, unless I recall the wonderful films by one of the key figures of the New Wave of Hong Kong cinema, Allen Fong, narrative films based on true biographies and mostly casted with the real protagonists. The borders of documentary and narrative cinema were suspended.

This film takes place in Tibet, a country occupied by China. First of all this film represents cinema as the “art of seeing” which evokes not only the early films by Wim Wenders but also the masterpieces by Hou Hsiao Hsien from the 1980s and 1990s. Gyals film is also an invitation to dive for 94 minutes into another world, another culture and another geography. The story is quick told. We have a man, his wife and their little daughter Yangchan. They are farmers with a small flock of sheep. They move to their summer camp for cultivate grain from what their live is depending on. The grandfather is a monk, now near the end of his life and now living like an hermit. Yangchan´s father has a bad reputation in the village because he refuses to visit his old and sick father. Later the film reveals the father´s motivation: years before the old man refuses to fulfill the last wish of his dying wife, Yangchans grandmother.
One of the most important protagonists is here the land scape, a sparse solitude. The film uses often extreme panorama shots where the few people either nearly disappear or where they seem like nothing more than beings almost grown from it.
The flock of sheep is often endangered by wolves, the summer camp mostly exposed to this climate of snow, rain and thunderstorms. The people are not talking very much – or in better words, the gestures and their faces are talking a lot. Men, animals and this incredible land scape seem to belong together, different branches from the matter of the world. Nature is slightly interpreted by the believe of men.
Yangchan is often teased by other kids. This one of these films where seemingly very few happens but as the film proceeds it turns into an amazing experience. We get a taste of a human life so concrete planted in this piece of the world – an experience only cinema can evoke.
Gtsngbo is a film which does not impose itself to be more than an image of the world and we are only temporary guests in this world which seems to exists independent from our view. That is exactly a hint to the greatness of this film. The film offers hardly any drama but in its consequence it offers the matter dramas are made of.
Yangchan feels abandoned, the parents can´t spend much time with her. The mother is pregnant again and has to wean Yangchan. One night a wolf kills a sheep. Yangchan gets friendly with the orphaned lamb. Later we witness again thunderstorms and the death of the lamb caused again by the wolves which remain invisible in this film like an uncanny power of nature. The film´s point of view seems to be in accordance with this landscape and the stoicism of its characters. In the last shot this beautiful piece of a film becomes almost an unmoved frame which tells a lot about the relationship of the characters. On the left side we see the father in some distance to his father and the girl at the right edge of the frame. The father-son conflict remains unsolved – in other words – it is not our business anymore, because we are dismissed into the black of the credits.

The miracle of Gtsngbo is that we got a glimpse of this strange world but we also leave this world with the strange sensation that it will go on to exist long after the film is finished and even long after the film becomes a fleeting memory for us.
Gtsnbo is a wonderful introduction to the wonder of cinema.
Rüdiger Tomczak

Thur, Feb 12, Haus Der Kulturen der Welt, 13.00
Sun, Feb 15, Cinemaxx 3                            14.00

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