Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tuya's Marriage (2006)

Tuya's Marriage (Wang Quanan, 2006)
Mandarin Title: Tuya de hun shi

Berlinale-winner Tuya's Marriage is bookended with the same sequence: two boys fighting with one boy explaining that the other teased him regarding having two fathers. Tuya (Yu Nan) tries to calm the two boys to no avail, forcing her to storm into an empty tent to cry out of frustration. We hear a man calling for her; she merely looks out the window and the film blacks out.

Director Wang Quanan's decision to introduce his film with its inevitable conclusion is a brave one. It gives the director the tough duty to concretize the middle portion well enough to sustain the interest despite the preset knowledge of the ending. The film officially starts with Tuya and her herd of sheep; on her way home, she discovers her neighbor Sen'ge, unconscious beside his motorcycle. She brings him home and takes care of him while her invalid husband Bater calmly approves of her acts --- probably out of deference of his wife's heading his household, as he has lost his mobility in an accident.

Wang surrounds Tuya with these flawed men: Bater, who is practically another mouth to feed which Tuya, as loving wife and mother of their children, cannot just abandon; and Sen'ge, who we acknowledge as suspiciously too nice to Tuya despite being a willing slave to his materialistic wife. When Tuya is forced to divorce Bater because of her lumbar injury (the circumstances would leave the two children in the protection of their two invalid parents; something Tuya's sister-in-law disapproves of ), hordes of suitors start inviting Tuya to marriage. Her proposition is highly unlikely but something she cannot compromise --- that her prospective husband should take both her two children and ex-husband into their household.

That's basically the film's central dilemma. Tuya is stoic and strong-willed, hardly in need of a man's support but circumstance and society convinces her of the added securities of getting married to an able-bodied male. Tuya's courters include a timid middle-aged man who showers Tuya with gifts, Bater's wealthy brother, a retired professor who promises Tuya a wealthy life and education for her two kids, and of course, Sen'ge, who pledges to divorce his wife and dig a well to placate Tuya's need for a man.

The irony of everything is that Tuya would always transcend the promises of stability and good life her courters offer; and that marital life, as Sen'ge initially says is a mere scrap of formality, is hardly the solution to her troubles. The irony to the irony is that it seems that the men are the ones who are slaves of marriage --- Sen'ge with his submissiveness to his wife's whim; Bater with his cloaked jealousy with Tuya's hunt for an able man; and all the other men who have their respective reasons for courting Tuya to marriage. Tuya is the last person in the movie to ever need marriage; and her decision for doing hunting for one is merely for the benefit of her children and Bater.

Wang's critical address on China's rapid modernism is fleshed out by this intricately conceived tale that weaves a tinge of sarcasm upon the traditionalism of the marital ceremony (we witness the colors and the aural beauty of the ceremony) mixed with the modernist and proprietary benefits of marital union. That's why Wang insists on beginning and ending the film with Tuya's cry of frustration; and in the end do we truly know the quagmire of complexed and complicated familial relations and problems that the wedding has given birth to. That's when we sufficiently understand Tuya's frustration.

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