Tibetan film explores universal identity struggle issue

A Tibetan movie nominated for four major awards at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival has won respect for its style and focus on an important contemporary subject -- people's sense of identity in a fast-changing world.

"Tharlo," competing for the awards of Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography, the results of which will be announced on Saturday, is about the eponymous orphaned shepherd whose quiet life is disrupted when he has to go to town to get his first ID photo.

Pema Tseden, the film's director, was born in northeast China's Qinghai Province but left his hometown at a young age to study filmmaking in Beijing. He told Xinhua that he wanted to present how things are for younger generations of Tibetans and inspire the audience to think about the effects of the changes sweeping the region -- and further afield.

"It's not only Tibetans that face this issue; people in the rest of China and the world are experiencing the same thing," Pema Tseden said.

The director is speaking from personal experience, though he admits he doesn't have the answers. "From time to time, I am surprised how much I have changed since I left my hometown and how much people have changed there. The force of change is so strong and irresistible. I am still searching for how to cope with it. I hope that everyone who watches the film may find their own way."

Pema Tseden's previous films have distinctly Tibetan features, but he played them down here. "I tried to focus on Tharlo himself and eliminate unnecessary distractions of cultural or social backgrounds," the director said.

"Tharlo" is also notable for its highly artistic black and white cinematography. Lu Songye, the film's cinematographer, told Xinhua that the style is appropriate for the plot and characters.

"Shooting the film in black and white was a way to minimize distraction," Lu said. "It also matches the spiritual world of Tharlo who is a man of simple morality."

The audience will see Tharlo's simple world collapse into confusing gray, triggered by a tragic love affair with a girl working at the local barber's shop.

Wide use of mirrors is another cinematographic feature of "Tharlo." "It's a perfect tool to display the detached feeling Tharlo has in the town," Lu said.

The shoot employed four professional actors while the rest of the characters are played by locals including Pema Tseden's friends.

Shide Nyima, who played Tharlo, was a comedian and TV actor in Qinghai before he picked this role.

"This is a challenging role that I had never played before. Also, I understand what he's going through. I have some similar feelings myself," Shide Nyima said.