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Tuya's Marriage

Winner ~ Berlin Film Festival ~ Chicago Film Festival ~

Who, if given a choice, would want to grow up on the cold, arid steppe of Inner Mongolia, the setting of Wang Quanan's absorbing film Tuya's Marriage? The climate is so inhospitable that life is a grinding struggle for subsistence. Water is scarce and must be lugged by hand from distant wells. Yet the movie finds an austere beauty in this landscape of scrub and grassland ringed by forbidding slate-blue mountains. Most of the film's characters, including Tuya (Yu Nan), an attractive, robust woman who lives with her husband and their two young children, dwell in crude huts made with wood and rugs. Sheep herding is the region's primary occupation and source of food, although there are signs of change. And alcohol is almost as necessary as water; consumed prodigiously, it provides insulation from the cold and relief from pain. This grueling life in a cruel environment exacts a heavy toll. Tuya's husband, Bater (played, as are the other male characters, by a non-actor of the same name), was permanently disabled in a well-digging accident and is entirely dependent on Tuya, who fetches water and tends the flock. The family's future is imperiled when she dislocates her back while tugging out a man pinned beneath an overturned truck. Tuya realizes that the most practical way of preserving her family is to follow Bater's suggestion that she divorce him and remarry – on condition that her new husband agree to take care of Bater and the children. The local belle of the ball, so to speak, she is besieged by suitors from near and far when word spreads of her decision. The film observes the fascinating rites of courtship and the dealmaking by this strong, unsentimental woman who knows what she wants and drives a hard bargain. Lest you think that Tuya's Marriage is an ethnographic curiosity, Mr. Wang and his screenwriting collaborator, Lu Wei (Farewell My Concubine), portray a world that, apart from its hardship, is thoroughly recognizable in its human complexity. Its characters are motivated by the same needs for companionship and material well-being and the same demons – greed, lust, jealousy and despair – that drive everybody. – Stephen Holden, New York Times
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Directed by: 
Wang Quanan
Running Time: 
Mandarin with English subtitles
Yu Nan, Bater, Sen’ge, Zhaya
Screenplay by: 
Lu Wei, Wang Quanan

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