Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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ZHANG YANG: SOUL ON A STRING (2016) - NYAFF

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Quest of a home for a sacred object - across desert wilds

In this Tibetan tale from a Chinese director, Zhang Yang, whose previous work has tended toward the quirky and the comic, Taibei, a desert wanderer, kills a deer and finds a sacred stone in its mouth, which sets him on the mission to bring the divine artifact back to its rightful home, the holy mountain of Buddha. This movie, which has authentic costumes, ruddy-cheeked locals, and epic scenery, doesn't know what it wants to be - but so it goes with Tibetan spiritual quest spaghetti Westerns. Sometimes it's antique; sometimes it's contemporary. Sometimes it's solemn and epic; often it's comic. The cinematography by dp Guo Daming is beautiful.

There are black market traders and two brothers in search of vengeance but Taibei gathers camp followers, a colorful singing girl he spend the night with and a mute boy with a stringed instrument that she finds when she goes to get a pot she dropped down a ravine. Sometimes we could be in the American West. Sometimes we could be in the land of sacred myth, the world chronicled by Joseph Campbell. This is a pilgrimage, a sacred journey, by a man who has a treasure to present in a holy land. Stay tuned for the Palm Print Land of the Lotus Master. That's where we want to go. This never grabs you like Sergio Leone or the Jim Jarmusch of Dead Man, but it has its moments.

Soul on a String / 皮绳上的魂 (Pí shéng shàng de hún, "The soul of a leather rope"), 142 mins., from China, in Tibetan, with English subtitles, debuted at Shanghai 2016 in competition, winning the Best Cinematography prize. Some big international festivals, including Toronto, Busan, Hong Kong, Chicago, Golden Horse, Bosphorus and Trento. Reviewed here as part of the NYAFF where it was shown 9 July at the Walter Raede Theater.

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