Starring: Huang Lu, Yang Youan, Zhang Yuling, He Yunle
Director: Li Yang
Category: IIB (Putonghua)
Stark, grim, and utterly engrossing, Blind Mountain sheds light on one of the darkest corners of Chinese society, and does so with such skill that it's sometimes hard to believe it's a movie and not reality.
The kidnapping and selling of women into slave-like marriages in China's remote interior has been the subject of many newspaper exposes, but rarely has the problem been expressed as forcefully as in director-writer-producer Li Yang's portrait of one woman and the vivid recreation of the hell in which she is trapped.
'Hell' isn't the word that comes to mind as the camera of Jong Lin (Eat Drink Man Woman) surveys the beautiful autumn scenery of deepest Shaanxi province, but it's a prison to Bai Xuemei (Huang Lu), a naive university graduate whose status is abruptly reduced to little more than baby machine for an impoverished peasant family.
The delineation of Bai and her world is done with a minimum of dialogue and the director eschews such crutches as voice-over narration and a melodramatic score.
The illusion would not have been possible without Huang's unvarnished performance, so natural that it comes as something of a shock to discover she is a Beijing Film Academy graduate.
Part of Blind Mountain's resonance can also be attributed to the director's anticipation of viewers' questions, such as: 'Why doesn't Bai just run away?'
Not only is the entire clan, including Bai's 'mother-in-law', complicit in her abduction, but nearly everyone in the village, from the mailman to the local party chief, looks on her predicament as a run-of-the-mill family matter. More ominously, a root cause of the problem is shown in the community's tiny school, where the pupils are almost all boys, and in another scene in which the body of a newborn girl is found floating in a pond.
Bai has two choices, to resist or to resign herself to her fate. The former risks physical injury or death, the latter seems certain to lead to a lifetime of misery. She chooses to fight, and the film gains dramatic momentum through its depiction of the ways in which she attempts to extract herself from her impossible situation. The ending is exceedingly abrupt and extremely thought-provoking.
Li doesn't offer any easy solutions - there are none. But by putting a human face on what is more often than not a phenomenon described in anonymous reports on the inside pages of newspapers, Blind Mountain will open more than a few eyes, both to a social injustice and the potential of mainland cinema.
Blind Mountain opens today