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Tharlo cover photo

Tharlo 2015


Distributed by Todos los Pueblos Productions

Directed by Pema Tseden
DVD, color, 88 min.

General Adult
Anthropology, Communism, Fiction, Human Relations, Storytelling

Date Entered: 08/17/2017

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

The film begins with a middle-aged man rapidly reciting passages from Chairman Mao that he learned as a child. He is complimented on his good memory by the local police chief, who tells the shepherd derogatorily nicknamed “Ponytail” he must go a nearby city for an identification card. Once in the nameless city, Tharlo has his photograph taken and meets a young hairdresser. Yangchuo is a modern Tibetan woman who cut her hair short, smokes, drinks, and lusts after a different life. The simple shepherd is both scandalized by and attracted to her. After wolves kill several sheep, and in response to his lonely existence, Tharlo sells what remains of his property and goes back to the city for the woman.

Filmed in black & white, the film skillfully illustrates the beauty and desolation of rural Tibet, while sound design captures the frenetic (in comparison) pace of city life. While the subtitles are small and difficult to read, and some of the camera techniques too obviously stylized, the other visual elements and acting succeed in telling the story of identity, loneliness, and culture clash. Adapted from the filmmaker’s own novella, this small allegorical tale set in the vastness of the Tibetan frontier won several international film festival awards and is recommended for viewers who enjoy artful dramas.