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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dao Ma Zei - The Horse Thief

A Tibetan village living in its universe of traditions since ever. Harsh mountains, harsh storms and winds, flocks of vultures in the high among scarring clouds, or pretty close over herds. Villagers find their answers in rituals. Norbu is a horse thief, while a devout Buddhist. He robs from the shrine offerings, while giving most of his loot to the shrine. Banished from the community, he repents and seeks readmission. His first son dies, a second son is born, again he needs to steal horses.

Dao Ma Zei (The Horse Thief), made by Tian Zhuang-Zhuang in 1986, tells us a story of such an elemental power that words are almost unnecessary. Chinese censors insisted that the first image of the movie should indicate a year, 1923, meaning that the story was long time before Communist era. Actually the story is timeless.

It is, on my knowledge, only one other film director who spoke so forcefully about a universe of rituals and traditions: Parajanov. About the importance of the rituals, as a fundamental dimension of our system of values.

Like Parajanov, Tian has a profound respect for traditional cultures. Both of them, Parajanov and Tian, leave rituals freely in their movies. No explanation is needed, the ritual speaks for itself.

But it is more than that. Life is not only ritual. Life is destiny in the same time. You live within rituals, you live also within sin. This paradox of human condition, to live far from godhead, while within godhead. Norbu is a horse thief, a highwayman. He is also a devout Buddhist. Is here destiny? Or maybe is it that sin is also necessary in the divine order, together with rituals?

(Tian Zhuang-Zhuang)



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