Film Review: River • Part 2

   The film begins with a black screen and the sound of a river that soon becomes the sound of a motorcycle engine. Gu ru, a drunk, dark-complected man clad in a thick Tibetan robe sings while sitting behind a man on a moving motorcycle. They soon stop. While the driver gets off the motorcycle and urinates by the side of the road, Gu ru stands up and then unsteadily drives off. The erstwhile driver comments to himself that driving while drunk is not a good idea, and then Gu ru falls. The other man runs to him, picks him up in his arms, and sees blood oozing from his injured face as Gu rumumbles, "Four years. It's been four years. Should I go see him?"  The man says nothing. We see the yellow teddy bear Gu ru bought for his daughter in his robe pouch. 


    Dbyangs can lha mo feels she does not get enough parental love and then begins to feel what love her parents do have for her is being lost when she realizes that her mother is pregnant. This realization is especially painful when Rig sgrol smears stove soot on her nipples.  Gu ru, who has not seen his father for four years, seems uncaring about his daughter's feelings, throwing "Get off!""Go home by yourself!""Stay there!" at her. Several children play with Dbyangs can lha mo's teddy bear. They throw it into the sky and laugh joyfully, but Dbyangs can lha mo is unhappy because the other children will not let her play and do not return the teddy bear to her. She explains the situation to her mother, who says, "It doesn't matter. They'll return it after playing with it." Dbyangs can lha mo returns to the children and tells them to return her teddy bear, saying three times, "I'm going to tell my mother." The children ignore her. Though the ground is still frozen, Gu ru moves to the summer pasture in late Spring, despite objections from Rig sgrol, who says that moving will entail a bumpy ride in a tractor trailer, which is bad for her, given her pregnancy. Gu ru is unmoved and tells her that if she does not want to come, he will go and take their daughter with him. Rig sgrol then unhappily comes. 

   The day the family sets out, two children run after the tractor and throw Dbyangs can lha mo's teddy bear to her - a touching moment emphasizing children's sense of compassion.  The same night Gu ru's family reaches the summer pasture, a ewe is attacked and terribly injured by wolves. Gu ru kills it to put it out of its misery, leaving the ewe's lamb orphaned. Gu ru attaches a tit to a yak horn and uses it to feed the lamb. Dbyangs can lha mo pleads with her mother to give the lamb, Rgya khra, more milk and even filches milk from her mother's milk bucket so the lamb will have more. 

    The strong tie between the little girl and the lamb is emphasized in one scene in which Dbyangs can lha mo lies alone on the ground in her family's black-yak hair tent, looking at the sun shining through the tent's skyhole.Dbyangs can lha mo holds the horn used to feed the orphan lamb and swallows a bit of milk from the horn. Later, she ties her red hair string around Rgya khra's rope, murmuring, "You will be pretty after I tie my hair string to your rope."

    Time passes, the lamb grows older, and one morning Gu ru puts Rgya khra with the flock, despite Dbyangs can lha mo's objections. That same day at dusk, Gu ru drives the flock home. Dbyangs can lha mo calls to Rgya khra many times, but the lamb does not appear. Despite her parents' insistence that she come for dinner, she refuses and leans on the fence, waiting. She does not return home until darkness falls. 

    Though Gu ru saw wolves killing Rgya khra, he hides this from his daughter and, the next day, takes Dbyangs can lha mo and pretends to search for Rgya khra. Later, Dbyangs can lha mo finds the lamb's carcass close to a mountain deity altar near her home, her red hair string still on its carcass. Heavy with sadness, she heads home and does not talk for a long while. One day, Rig sgrol sees her daughter lying on the ground near the tent and tells Gu ru, adding that a storm is brewing. Gu ru runs to her, his robe falling from his shoulders. Rig sgrol, obviously pregnant, runs after Gu ru to her daughter. This scene, shot from a distance with an unmoving lens, emphasizes the parents' anxiety. Gu ru makes three attempts to visit his father. Dbyangs can lha modoes not know that she has a grandfather till the day her father comes home and Rig sgrol scolds him because he did not call on his father, even though every other family in the local community sent a representative to visit. She feels humiliated and shamed because Gu ru is Thubbstanchos'phel's son and has not shown filiality. While sobbing, she tells Gu ru that he should go see his father and prepares rtsam pa and bread for Gu ru to take to his father. Gu ru and Dbyangs can lha mo mount Gu ru's motorcycle and head toward his father's meditation room. Gu ru has not been near his father's place for years and does not know the road very well. When they come to an ice-covered river, Gu ru tells his daughter to get off the motorcycle. She complies and walks across the ice to the other bank. Meanwhile the ice breaks, plunging Gu ru and the motorcycle into the frigid water. Gu ru scrambles out of the water and up onto the ice, removes his robe, and gives his daughter his gzi'agate' and a package of cigarettes. He then returns to the motorcycle and unsuccessfully tries to pull it out of the water using his sash.

    Fortunately, another man on a motorcycle comes and helps Gu ru get the motorcycle onto the ice. He also asks if they are going to visit Thubbstanchos'phel.Gu ru lies, saying he and his daughter are just visiting a local family. This angers Gu ru's daughter, who throws the agate and cigarettes onto the ice, and walks to a gully. She looks back to see if her father is following her. He is and she continues on. (To be continued)

Originally published in Asian Highlands Perspectives


Punwang Tsang (Pun tsogWang gyal) was born in a Tibetan nomadic family in Amdo. He went to local boarding schools. In August 2016, Punwang Tsang participated an international leadership workshop in San Francisco sponsored by VIA (Volunteers in Asia). He graduated from Xi'an Translation University in 2017. Meanwhile, hehas published an article and a film review of Riverin AHP (Asian Highlands Perspectives), an international journal, as an independent scholar.