A film Review by Wangpo Tethong
A film by Sonam Tseten
Duration: 50 minutes
Langue: Tibetan/ English/Chinese with English subtitle
A Girl from China tells the story of Que, a young Chinese woman from Shanghai, who discovers Tibet during her holidays in India.
The film starts by showing her desperately looking for someone to help her, she runs into Karma, a young Tibetan man calmly painting some street scenes in midst of the chaos of Old Delhi. She has lost her bag and needs some cash to contact her embassy.
She realizes that he is not Indian, and hoping he is Chinese immediately starts talking to him in her native tongue. Karma, the young artist, is confused but helps her, they come to know each other better and decide to travel together to Dharamsala. There in the center of the exile Tibetan community, she is confronted with a story that goes far behind their personal encounter.
The 33-year-old director Sonam Tseten, who had his debut as a film maker with the 45 minute movie From Tsampa to Pizza in 2006, clearly displays a more matured and sophisticated command of script, camera movements, music and his actors in this movie.
It is a great pleasure to see how the director achieved dialogue conveying a natural atmosphere, avoiding the awkward lengthiness and declamatory pose that are characteristic for almost all exile Tibetan productions of the past. This is surely a good proof of Sonam Tseten’s skills as a careful scriptwriter and a director.
This is a low budget film with all amateur casts. Sonam Tseten, during the film’s screening in Zurich, spoke about the difficulties of paying the location costs for a scene in a well-known Chinese restaurant in Delhi. Finally, after getting the consent of the owner to shoot the scene in this restaurant without having to pay anything, they realized that they had no budget to order from the expensive menu and decided to bring their own food. Fortunately, the generous owner intervened and rescued the restaurant scene with some exquisite looking dishes. It is to say that at no point of this film you are distracted by some amateurish and cheap solutions. Sonam Tseten succeeds to tell the story elegantly straightforward.
The young Tibetan director is supported in his undertaking by the surprisingly solid performance of the two lead characters – Jane as Que and Tenzin Choedup as Karma, both are new faces. Tenzin Choedup definitely succeeded stirring curiosity of Tibetan film buffs to see him in more flicks.
The script is based on a true story of a young Chinese woman who was mugged in Delhi and was finally helped out by a Tibetan living in a settlement. And the young painter from Tibet who lives in India and whose childhood trauma prevented him from talking about his past for many years. Sonam Tseten uses these and other accounts of Tibetan refugees to write a script and produce a film that proves his talent as a storyteller.
However, I wished that at some point of the story there had been a bit more love and drama and that the characters were forced to move beyond their comfort zones of prescribed roles: We are presented a nice but a bit naive Chinese woman and on the other side a good-looking altruistic Tibetan. There are some sprouts of conflicts between Que and Karma but they can’t really jolt the young man allowing him an easy and noble retreat to the secure moral heights of a victim. I guess, cross-cultural understanding and peace should be attained with a little bit of more effort – at least in cinema.
Nevertheless, A Girl from China is a convincing example of exile Tibetan filmmaking. Let’s wait for Sonam Tseten forthcoming film.