A rocky trucker singing O sole mio in out of tune Tibetan while driving across the desert plains of the Kekexili Plateau at more than 5000m of altitude, and transporting a bloody dead sheep on the front seat next to him, would be enough to intrigue anyone. The opposition of a second protagonist – who has the same name as our trucker (Jinpa) – who is resolved to kill his father’s killer after ten years of hesitation, and the dissimilarities between the surprisingly pious and sensitive character of the rocky Jinpa and the surprisingly bad manners of the other Jinpa, who is still dressing in old-fashioned and traditional clothes, are just some amongst the many ingredients that make this film so exotic. “Instagrammed” images, both highly exposed and with deeply saturated colours, add an aesthetic flavour from the Seventies; together with rare, sententious dialogues, they define a cinematic style longing for epics.
Pema Tseden clearly likes the atmosphere of Sergio Leone’s films, and we should remark that the Western genre seems to be à la mode in recent Chinese film productions – I refer to a genre that has to be distinguished from the wuxia genre; see for example Qungshu Gao’s Wind Blast (2010), Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land (2013) or Liang Sung’s Kill the Shadow (2017). In order for an epic style to be effective, strong personal or collective dramas should sustain the epic rhetoric. Now, despite some timid reference to the practices concerning the respect of karmas, Jinpa sinks us into a foggy narrative, where potential metaphors reduce themselves to vague allusions, and our expectations are largely deceived by the very few pieces of information. Many plots become possible, which waters down the cogency of the drama; the urgency in which a hero is made remains suspended at unintelligible implications, thereby becoming fanciful.
Jinpa is probably no more than an atmosphere, and it challenges us with the discomfort and pleasure of open meanings, yet the highly connoted Western aesthetic still communicates a well-defined eulogy of the individualist outsider – rigorously male – and this makes us reflect on the transformation of a society – both the Tibetan and the Chinese – that has long been very far from the (very cinematic) world of cowboys.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: March 27, 2019