Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden explores karmic guilt and moral redemption in this slow but compelling arthouse work.
Dir. Pema Tseden
2018 | Tibet | Drama | 86 mins | 1.33:1 | Tibetan
NC16 (passed clean) for sexual scene
Cast: Jinpa, Genden Phuntsok, Sonam Wangmo
Plot: On an isolated road passing through the vast barren plains of Tibet, a truck driver, who has accidentally run over a sheep, chances upon a young man, who is hitching a ride.
Awards: Won Best Screenplay – Orrizonti (Venice); Nom. for Best Director & Best Adapted Screenplay (Golden Horse)
International Sales: Jet Tone
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed for Contemporary Asian Cinema Series)
Pema Tseden is one of the most interesting Asian filmmakers to watch today, emerging since 2005 as Tibet’s representative arthouse director. His films have found audiences at international film festivals, and in the case of Jinpa, winning Best Screenplay under Venice’s Orrizonti category. Tseden’s sixth feature will please fans of slow cinema, but it is surprisingly compelling.
Structured in a way that reveals intriguing narrative developments at specific stages, either through a line of dialogue or sudden change in visual style, Jinpa is a good example of a director knowing how to best express the themes inherent in his material with technique and visual storytelling.
The film is produced by Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai.
There’s not much dialogue in the first half, which operates like a road movie as a lorry driver makes a long journey high atop the desolate Kekexili plateau in northwest China. The ‘inciting incident’ comes in the form of a sheep that he accidentally runs over. Along the way, he picks up a pensive-looking hitchhiker who tells him a secret that affects him psychologically.
Jinpa explores karmic guilt and the desire for moral redemption with Buddhist principles embedded in the subtext. Tseden also brings in the notion of shared dreams and premonitions in the latter half that opens up even more questions about the human sentience that connects us all in the wheel of life. I didn’t quite buy the denouement, but for much of Jinpa it is an engaging arthouse drama with a strong vision.