Hurting herders

REVIEW Set in Inner Mongolia’s dry and inhospitable plains, Tuya’s Marriage comments on capitalism’s suffocating ability to suppress other ways of living. Tuya (Yu Nan — last seen in Speed Racer, of all places) is a Mongolian sheep herder struggling to make ends meet. China’s growing economy has made it almost impossible for herders to survive — not only has it forced them to leave their lands, it has created industries that exploit the natural resources herders traditionally have taken advantage of. So when Tuya’s husband Bater (played by a real Mongolian herder) is incapacitated while digging a well, things become even harder. Tuya is left in charge of their two toddlers, the flock, and securing their daily supply of water. When the strained woman suffers a physical breakdown that warns of graver consequences if she keeps exhausting herself, everyone advises her to divorce Bater and marry another man. Unable to deal with the hardships surrounding her, Tuya starts looking for a groom on the outrageous condition that whoever agrees to take her for his wife must also be willing to provide for Bater. Having glimpsed the potential outcome of marrying a Mongolian oil tycoon and living in the city, Tuya chooses to continue the life she knows — at a high price. Aesthetically beautiful and emotionally complex, the film records the customs and mores of a culture that’s slowly disappearing, and the sadness of a people who have become marginalized.

TUYA’S MARRIAGE opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.