The movies comprising the Orizzonti selection this year at the Venice International Film Festival had an underlying theme: teenage angst.
From Mexico to Mongolia, films portrayed young lives: some seeking revenge, as in the Mexican film Cielo Abierto (Santiago and Mariana Arriaga, 2023), about two teenage brothers who are on the lookout for the man that caused the death of their father; others, like the Swedish Paradiset Brinner (Mika Gustafson, 2023), about very young girls taking care of themselves on their own because of absent parents.
One of the films which stood out was City of Wind (Ser ser salhi) from Mongolia, by female director Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir.
The movie starts with an intriguing scene, in which a shaman, known as “Grandpa Spirit,” performs a ceremony. Shockingly, once the ritual has passed and he removes his cloak and headpiece, we can see that he is a young man, a mere teenager.
Thus comes a duality that pervades throughout the film: old and young, ancient traditions encountering novelty, a village sense of belonging vs. individualism.
Ze (Tergel Bold-Erdene) is shy and studious teenager trapped between two worlds. Through one of his shaman gigs, he meets an upper-class girl (Nomin-Erdene Ariunbyamba) facing a difficult surgery. She despises him, considers him a phony. But as they become closer, the future he looks forward to becomes different.
Even if the plot is not super original—it is mainly a coming-of-age story—it captures our attention, as it portrays customs and society in Mongolia, a country almost never shown in cinema. Most interestingly, it shows urban Mongolia, mainly the city of Ulaanbaatar, where modern skyscrapers shoot out like arrows, a cocked pistol in the middle of the serene mountains.
On the other hand, it manages to show how globalism and consumerism have reached even the most unsuspecting corners of the world: the shopping centers in which Ze and Maralaa meet, the night clubs they attend, could very well be in America or Europe. So much for communism nostalgia.
The cast feels very natural performing their roles, the camera swaying, capturing emotions.
The young actor Tergel Bold-Erdene is outstanding as the teenager split between two worlds, who is sucked more and more into contemporary matters and values. His is a nuanced performance and his Orizzonti Award for Best Actor is well deserved.
In all, this is an impressive film debut that manages to embroider regional uniqueness into universal themes. Being a teenager has never been easy… it doesn’t matter if you are Mongolian or a Finn.
Edited by Robert Horton
© FIPRESCI 2023