Of Love and Separation

in 12nd Dhaka International Film Festival

by Ershad Komal Khan

Horizon (Tian Bian), directed by Nuoming Huari, is not just an emotional family drama, but an artistic representation of the impact of ‘economic reformation’ in China in the 1980s, focusing on the people living a simple life in the countryside. The powerful emotional attachment of the characters depicted in the bilingual movie (Mongolian and Mandarin), leads viewers to confront some questions related to development and the resulting change in social structure. Such questions do not have any concrete answers, like the horizon does not have any ‘end’.

The drama starts at the beginning of the movie when the protagonist Su Rina (acted by Nuoming Huari), in a festive mood, goes shopping with her son and lame husband, to prepare for the Chinese New Year celebration. But, the news of the sudden return of her father, 20 years after he abandoned his six—year old daughter, is like a bolt of lightning in the blue sky for her. The zeal of her preparation for celebration the very next day just fades out and Su Rina is lost in her sweet and sad childhood memories.

Director and screenplay writer Nuoming Huari’s technique of using flashbacks in the movie is unique, as is the setting and presentation of the countryside, especially when compared with the typical Chinese movies dealing with human emotions. A rotating paper fan, a common children’s toy, links the flashback and return to reality throughout the movie. The sun rays, creating different hues on the toy, artistically resemble the multi—layered emotions of the three leading characters of the movie — Su Rina and her parents.

In the first flashback Su Rina recalls her sweet memories of playing with her loving father in a village in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China, located in the northern region of the country. In one scene their Chinese neighbour Wang Tianzhu comes with a transistor, which airs Shanghai radio broadcasts assuring them of so many hopes. He further informs the Mongolian family about the job opportunities created in the cities after the economic reformation in China.

Her father also had the idea of leaving the grassland and settling in the town for a better future for his child. But, in reality, when the father leaves the family in the village he never comes back and Su Rina’s mother dies from a life of hardships, leaving her orphaned. A Lama adopts her and then their neighbour Wang Tianzhu, a Han Chinese, adopts her and Su Rina becomes a ‘complete’ Chinese after marrying Wang Tianzhu’s lame son. The caring Han family and other neighbours suggest Su Rina to forgive her father and forget the past. But, each and every encounter with her father takes her back down memory lane in the pastoral settings of grasslands, hills and open skies.

Though the movie features a day in the protagonist’s life where she recalls the melancholic story of her past, the movie never comes across as melodrama due to the brilliant directorial compositions and cinematography, powerful acting and exceptional background music. Nuoming Huari plays the role of both Su Rina and her mother, and performs exceptionally well in expressing a unique range of womens’ emotions. Other actors also perform well.

Horizon, however, ends in an optimistic manner when Su Rina, standing on a hill and looking towards the vast horizon, assures her father that she will take care of him in his ailing days. Director—screen playwright—actor of the movie Nuoming Huari, who is also from Chifeng City of the Inner Mongolia and currently residing in Beijing, said, “The economic reformation in China has given us so many good things. But, at the same time it has destroyed social structure and distinctive culture in the courtsides as development does. I believe we shouldn’t forget the tradition.”

My intention is not to portray with such issues. Through a simple and artistic presentation I’ve tried to deliver the message: don’t hurt women, they are very emotional beings. I had the plan to act Su Rina. Since I did not get any actress who speaks in Mongolian [characters in flashback of the movie speaks in Mongolian], I had to act the mother role also. And I’ve used a traditional musician from the Inner Mongolian region, where the whole movie has been shot, along with a professional Beijing based composer,” she added. Horizon received the critics’ award from the international federation of film critics at the 12th Dhaka International Film Festival.