A Film a Week - A Song for You / Ta yu luo ye dai er

 Previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Dukar Tserang is the best known as one of the most influential score composers and sound guys (handling everything, from design, via recording, to mixing) of the Tibetan cinema scene, with a dozen credits to his name, including the work on Pema Tseden’s “Jinpa” (2018). For Dukar, “A Song for You” is a step towards the unknown waters of filmmaking and directing, so it should not raise many eyebrows that he has picked up a topic that concerns his primary field.

The film premiered at Pingyao International Film Festival last year, and was also screened at Osaka Asian Film Festival and the virtual June edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam, where we caught it in Harbour programme. The names of its producer (Jia Zhangke) and executive producer (Pema Tseden) should secure it more festival bookings in the near future.

The story follows Ngawang (Damtin Tserang), a young folk singer / songwriter and mandolin player who is tired of the simple nomadic life in the heights and wants to make it as a professional musician with his traditionally sounding songs. He is talented, but the catch with the musical competitions are that the juries are more keen on awarding those who already have an album under their belt. Armed with a talisman of his muse Loyiter and his instrument and with some help of his friends and “frenemies”, with little to no money, he heads to the capital city with the aim to record an album or at least a single and a video clip.

Things might turn around for him when he sees a girl that looks exactly like his muse singing in a rock band. But can she help him? Is she real at all? And the music business in the nationally divided city is way tougher than Ngawang could even imagine…

A Song for You” is partly a social study of the life in one of the most mysterious corners of the world, partly a story about the way to success, partly a road movie equipped with wonderful vistas and partly an insider “dramedy” about the emerging musical industry. It does not work equally well on all those fronts, but Dukar Tserang at least tries to play to his own strengths and the strengths of the very environment, sometimes offering some deeper insights in the background.

The main trouble with the film is the screenwriting, especially in the characters development department. Even Ngawang, as the main character, seems as a broad sketch, while the others, including his family, friends and even his muse are simply relegated to functions or one or two personal traits. The choice of the non-professional cast might seem to be the right one, especially when it comes to the authentic way they fit into the scenery, but it creates havoc in the dialogue scenes where the explanatory lines are even more highlighted with quite a theatrical, over-expressive and borderline fake delivery.

On the technical level, Dukar Tserang relies on his own music and sound design and fills the film with passages that could work on their own as music video clips. Paired with slightly “touristic” cinematography by Chan Hailiang and the adept editing by Di Jin (of “Suburban Birds” and “Balloon” fame), “A Song for You” is eventually a light-hearted movie that is easy enough to swallow, but some lasting impressions should not be expected.

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