Mainland helmer Wang Quanan and his regular lead actress, Yu Nan, tread on largely familiar ground in “Tuya’s Marriage,” the tale of a reserved but determined young woman in Inner Mongolia and the various suitors in her life. Made with a scrupulous attention to the slow-moving realities of grasslands life but lacking in dramatic heft, colorfully lensed pic is the kind that has a small, readymade market in the West, especially in Europe where it’s already been snapped up by a French distrib.
Yu essayed a very similar role in Wang’s 2004 feature, “Jingzhe” (aka “The Story of Er Mei”), as a plucky peasant in dusty Shaanxi province who tries to break away from an arranged marriage. With realistic but flavorsome lensing by the same German d.p., Lutz Reitemeier, “Tuya” is a tighter work but less involving, lacking the previous pic’s quiet humor. Neither film really builds on the major promise Wang showed in his 1999 debut, urban noir-ish mystery “Lunar Eclipse.”
One day, Tuya (Yu), married with two young kids to the disabled Bater (Bater), collapses in the fields and is diagnosed with a lumbar dislocation. With a peasant’s pragmatism, Tuya and Bater agree to divorce so she can find a fit and able husband to take care of both her and Bater.
Several men come seeking her but don’t want to look after Bater. Then an old schoolfriend, Baolier, now divorced and in the oil biz, comes calling with all the right intentions.
However, the rich Baolier behaves badly when a tragedy threatens Bater’s life. Help comes from Tuya’s likable but shy neighbor, Sen’ge (Sen’ge), whose wife has left him and made off with his truck. But Tuya seems slow to recognize the depth of Sen’ge’s feelings.
Within the limited arc of her character’s emotions, Yu, swathed in bulky clothing and headscarf, is very good as the stubborn Tuya, who stands by her husband and expects a lot from the men in her life. But Tuya is a difficult woman to empathize with across the duration of a story in which little actually happens and the ending is visible from some way off. A late-on drama, when her son, Zhaya (Zhaya), goes missing, has a tacked-on feel.
Other perfs by taciturn non-pros are fine. Tech package is smooth, with Reitemeier’s 35mm lensing having a less gritty than the 16mm blow-up of “Jingzhe.”