"Blind Mountain": The Bartered Bride By Viktor Palák

in 9th Bratislava International Film Festival

by Viktor Palák

It indeed was a difficult task to choose a winner from the fairly balanced sixteen competition titles of the 9th Bratislava International Festival. In the end the Grand Prix (as well as the commendation by the Ecumenical jury) was presented to the Chinese drama Blind Mountain (Mang shan), directed by Yang Li, who is not unknown to Bratislava audiences, since he already competed here four years ago with his debut Blind Shaft (Mang jing), which also won the Special Jury Prize at the 2003 Berlinale.

Li Yang’s second film (the Bratislava competition presents first and second films only) is about a recent graduate who swallows the bait of swindlers and instead of making money to pay her debts gets sold to a village family as a wife. She makes unsuccessful attempts to escape from the place she has been brought to against her will. Yang Li systematically constructs an atmosphere of desperation. Crossing the “blind mountains” on her way towards freedom, ends in entrapment and punishment and neither the local women who share her fate give her much hope. Reconciliation with her fate as a “bartered bride” is their suggestion.

When a minor affair with the local teacher (who wishes to go to university) is disclosed, the girl’s suicide attempt fails and the local postman who was supposed to make it possible for the girl to contact her relatives is revealed as a betrayer. The time is ripe for a little school-boy to offer her his simple-hearted help. Through this character, Li Yang celebrates the purity of a child’s soul, but also stresses the importance of education. The fact that the villagers in Li Yang’s film lack education is shown as a possible cause for a tragic turning point in a young, educated girl’s life. (The film was among several other competition titles, such as Garage that indirectly dealt with this topic.)

Blind Mountain belongs to those films that tend not to judge the characters but rather observe them objectively. Despite the fact that the acts of the villagers are opposed to what we could call a civilized western values, Yang Li merely shows that the villagers simply do not know any better. The tragic conclusion is a direct effect of previous deeds which include the impossibility of the girl to make herself heard.

Formally, Blind Mountain belongs to those films of the competition that followed a classical narrative and (unlike some of those which didn’t) was also assuredly directed. The winning film of this year’s edition of the Bratislava IFF managed to link a burning issue with a gripping tragic tale.

Blind Mountain extends the list of previous Chinese festival winners (Tuya’s Marriage /Tuya de hun shi and Still Life / Sanxia haoren), but also has considerable arthouse box-office potential which could be connected both to its universal appeal and a message which simply cannot be overlooked. Already affected by censorship, it is hoped that Blind Mountain won’t suffer from restrictions from local officials who will not be pleased to see, not only the slave-like custom of buying wives, but also hints at the far from perfect medical or police services in the rural location.