Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Exploring Women's Lot in Changing Culture INTERVIEW CHINESE DIRECTOR XIE FEI

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Exploring Women's Lot in Changing Culture INTERVIEW CHINESE DIRECTOR XIE FEI

Article excerpt

'A Mongolian Tale," the new movie by Chinese director Xie Fei, looks like another sure-fire hit. While it is just starting to open in American theaters, it has already played at some film festivals and cinema clubs, and American audiences have loved it.

The filmmaker's previous US imports, "Girl From Hunan" and "The Women From the Lake of Scented Souls," are among the most acclaimed Chinese productions of recent years.

As the titles of his best-known movies indicate, Xie has a special interest in women as main characters. He likes exploring individual personalities and is fascinated with female situations - such as pregnancy and motherhood - that take on different forms influenced by social and cultural surroundings. "A Mongolian Tale" centers on a Mongolian girl named Someyer and a Chinese boy named Beiyinpalica who grow up together in the home of Nai-Nai, a peasant woman who raises them. Nai-Nai wants them to marry and start a family as soon as possible, but modern times have brought a change to Mongolian life: Instead of automatically becoming a shepherd like his ancestors, Beiyinpalica wants to get an education in a distant city. Returning years later as a trained musician, he discovers that Someyer is pregnant by an irresponsible neighbor. Beiyinpalica leaves again and becomes a celebrated urban singer, whose songs recall the joys and pains of his early life in the countryside. Someyer marries and has five children, working in a local school instead of following traditional nomadic life. She knows she will not have a family with Beiyinpalica. But when he pays a final visit, she asks that he send his children to her in future years, so she can care for them. The movie ends on this loving but poignant note. "The movie is set in Mongolian places," Xie said in a recent interview, "but I think the theme is universal. A story about a young woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock can happen anywhere. The conflict in the film is between traditional Mongolian culture and modern society.... I wanted to compare the culture of the past with modern-day culture, and I wanted to show the need for keeping old virtues like kindness and tolerance." The women of the story, Someyer and Nai-Nai, embody the conflicts Xie sees between traditional and contemporary ways. Someyer's pregnancy is considered scandalous by Beiyinpalica, and she herself is regretful about it, especially when it damages her relationship with him. Old Nai-Nai shows a very different attitude, taking the situation completely in stride. She had grown up in an underpopulated region that valued new children too much for anyone to worry about the circumstances of their arrival. The disapproval felt by the younger characters is evidence of their entry into a modern sensibility more typical of China, which controls childbirth very rigidly, than of peasants raised on the Mongolian steppes. …

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