White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
莫尔道嘎 (Mo Er Dao Ga)
China, 2021, 120’, Mandarin
Directed by: Cao Jinling
Script: Cao Jinling
Photography (color): Mark Lee Ping-Bing
Editing: Liao Ching-Song, Huang Zimo
Art Direction: Yang Wei
Music: Lim Giong
Sound: Tu Duu-Chih, Tu Tse-Kang
Producer: Liao Ching-Song
Production Company: Haining Weichuang Pictures
Cast: Wang Chuangjun (Lin Zi), Qi Xi (Chun,) Si Ligeng (Tu Tu)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Anima’s message rings out like an environmental alarm call. It is a film whose opulent images and formal choices are reminiscent of the aesthetics of the first films of the so-called “Fifth Generation” that breathed new life into Chinese cinema in the 1980s. The screenwriter and director is Cao Jinling, who successfully combines an ecological message with an intensely passionate drama, populated by sanguine characters who exude repressed sensuality. The film is set in the 1980s in a mountain community of the Ewenki ethnic people, an indigenous minority in Inner Mongolia.
These are the years of economic reforms that encourage entrepreneurship and economic growth, paying no heed whatsoever to consequences such as pollution and the destruction of the natural environment. But the traditional culture of the Ewenki is rooted in a deep spiritual relationship with the forest and the animals that inhabit it, and teaches that when the balance between humans and nature is upset, the consequences are devastating.
The message is conveyed through the story of two brothers, Linzi and Tutu, who grew up in the Moerdaoga National Forest Park (hence the Chinese title of the film, which was shot in the largest forest of ancient trees in China). The two brothers are the victims of a “curse:” Linzi, the youngest, falls into a trap as a child and is attacked, alongside his mother who has come to help him, by a bear. His older brother Tutu, to defend his mother and brother, ends up killing the bear, a sacrilegious act for the Ewenki. The two brothers are therefore marginalised by the group and end up growing up isolated on the edge of the forest. But they have contrasting personalities and react differently to the circumstances they find themselves in. Linzi is sensitive and shy with a great affinity for the nature which surrounds him; he knows and worships the trees of the forest. Tutu, on the other hand, cannot shake off his sense of guilt. He grows up hardened and no longer feels in tune with nature.
In order to earn a living, as adults the two have no other alternative but to join a team of loggers who, in the capitalistic euphoria of the moment, have no qualms about clearing the ancient forest – also because they are mainly ethnic Han and therefore do not have the same sacred relationship with the forest that is part of the Ewenki culture. Linzi tries to oppose the indiscriminate destruction, trying to defend at least the most remote part of the forest that only he knows, where centuries-old trees thrive. But one day he comes across Chun, a young widow living alone in a tent, and takes her with him to the woodcutters’ camp, arousing the mistrust and curiosity of all the members of the group, and the fierce jealousy of Tutu. The repressed passion triggers animal instincts in Tutu, who suddenly leaves the camp and disappears for a long period, while Linzi starts a family with Chun. When Tutu returns, the situation becomes complicated again...
The tension between the two brothers is intertwined with the conflict between those who, driven by poverty or greed, exploit and torment nature until it rebels. This conflict, which is absolutely realistic in its essence, is nevertheless told with images, colours, sounds and settings that seem to belong to a fantasy world. In the film, the forest is inhabited by wonderful animals such as reindeer that allow themselves to be approached by humans; the forest of colossal trees is often filmed from above, underlining how insignificant human beings are in the face of the immensity of nature; the costumes worn by the Ewinki are made of furs that seem more suited to a fashion show than to work in the forest while the snowy environments of the story seem to be straight out of an advertisement for a celestial destination. It is no wonder that the film’s technical cast is made up of the most outstanding professionals in the trade: photography by Mark Lee Ping-Bing, sound by Tu Duu-Chih and music by Lim Giong. Anima is a film that not only prompts reflection on the relationship between man and nature, but is also delightfully satisfying on an aesthetic and sensorial level.
After having earned a doctorate in Drama Aesthetics at the Central Academy of Drama, Cao Jinling (China, 1978) continued her studies at USC’S School of Cinematic Arts. A member of the Chinese Society of Film and Literature and the TV Drama Screenwriter Working Committee of China Radio and Television Association, she is a screenwriter of numerous films such as Meet Miss Anxiety (2014), Crying Out in Love (2016), Seventy-Seven Days (2017). Anima is her directorial debut.
2021 – Anima