Dir/scr. Pema Tseden. China. 2023. 109mins
The snow leopard is a first-class protected animal in its native Tibet but it represents different things to the local people.
Pema Tseden, the pioneering founder of Tibetan cinema who died in May at the age of 53, rose to the international stage with his 2019 feature Balloon. With a unique cinematic vision Tseden shows how someTibetans see this legendary leopard as a vicious threat, others a mythical being.
The sharp contrasts between tradition and the present day come to life in a striking story that centres on a family disagreement in the frosty wastelands where the rare beast roams as an increasingly endangered species.
Sheep herder Jinpa and his father are caught in a bitter conflict. Jinpa wants to kill a leopard that has run riot through his sheep enclosure killing nine of his frightened herd, but his father (Losang Choepel) feels this sacred animal should to be set free.
All this is recorded by a film crew who arrives from Qinghai province in northwest China keen on collecting newsworthy local stories. Lead reporter Dradul (Genden Phuntsok) has been tipped off by the herder’s brother, Nyima (Tseten Tashi), a monk, and the TV journalist is delighted when the situation takes on a ludicrous angle as the conflict deepens
The enraged Jinpa will only back down if he gets compensation from the government. But this entails the endorsement of a government inspector who will have to travel all the way from the administrative capital. So the crew and family hunker down in the cosy yurt for a raucous night of high altitude hospitality. When the inspector finally arrives the conflict takes on a kafkaesque quality that often crackles with caustic comedy. Spectacular landscapes and mesmerising naturalistic performances, particularly from the leopard itself, makie this particularly memorable. MT.
SNOW LEOPARD IS SCREENING AT VIENNALE 2023