Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Friday, April 28, time 9.00 AM


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Soul on a string

Breathtaking landscapes frame a timeless story, which combines a spiritual journey with the atmosphere of a western. The second film that Zhang Yang (Shower, FEFF 2000) has set in Tibet – following the quasi-documentary Paths of the Soul – continues the director’s exploration of themes tied to popular Tibetan culture as well as, in a more general sense, to existential issues. The film is based on two tales by the famous Tibetan writer Tashi Dawa, which deal with Tibet’s trials and tribulations in becoming a modern country, in a magical realism style. The screenplay is by the same writer, who drafted it alongside the director Zhang Yang.

It revolves around Tabei, a hunter who comes into possession of a magic stone which must be brought to the Lotus Master in Palm Print Land. Tabei does not know where to find this place; the only clues given to him by the living Buddha who has assigned him this task are veiled in mystery: “Your destination is in the north, the distance is below your feet, the road is on your body.” Tabei also knows that during the journey he must purify himself of his sins, the ones accumulated during his lifetime and tied to his inherited karma.

At the start of his travels, Tabei stops to rest at the hut of a young woman who falls in love with him and decides to accompany him, despite the man’s protests. But Joon is not the only one following Tabei: two brothers, Guori and Kodi, are looking for him in order to avenge the death of their father, killed by Tabei’s father – whom he never met – in accordance with Tibetan traditions. But Guori kills the wrong person –someone with the same name as Tabei – and so the laws of retribution also condemn him to an endless cycle of death and vengeance. A group of bandits are also on Tabei’s trail, not to kill him but to steal the magic stone, considered to be of inestimable value. After Tabei and Joon walk for days on end, but find themselves always returning to their point of departure, they are joined by a child, mute but with special intuitions which allow him to communicate only with Joon, an intelligent and sensitive woman. As the three continue on their journey to find the sacred mountain, the places they pass seem untouched  by time; a contemporary writer appears accompanied by a dog; he is also looking for Tabei, but for reasons which only become clear towards the end of the film.

Tabei is convinced he cannot escape his karma, he feels as if he is in danger and decides to buy a sword to defend himself, despite Joon’s exhortations to break the cycle of vengeance and death. Joon is a strong woman who dares to rebel against tradition, she wants to know the world, she knows how to defend herself and her man, and she wants to give him a child. But Tabei cannot free himself of the burden of tradition, and is convinced that the only way to break the vicious cycle he feels trapped in is to not have children, thereby not passing on the painful inherited karma. So he decides to continue his journey alone, but falling from his horse into a swamp, he loses the sacred stone; he is saved by a troupe of ritual dancers who are going to comfort a man on the point of death and simultaneously celebrate the birth of a baby boy.

In the end, the people whose destiny revolves around Tabei and the sacred stone manage to reach the mountain specified by the living Buddha, where all their destinies will suddenly become clear, and where the two brothers following Tabei will end up in a mortal battle between siblings: a reference to Cain and Abel, one defending the right for vengeance, the other the right to life.
The film won the Best Cinematography Award at the Shanghai Film Festival 2016 thanks to its extraordinary beauty and the truly fable-like lighting of the landscapes.
Maria Barbieri
Film director: 
Zhang Yang
Running time: 




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