(Yak) Butter Lamp


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Refined and illuminating."

A camera points at the Forbidden City, a family assembles before it. A travelling photographer, his collection of backdrops selected for all sorts of reasons. In front of the unmoving lens people move, smile, bicker, announce, posture, preen.

A young couple borrow the mayor's motorcycle, a different theft is announced, the wind whips by, the backdrop billows, balloons, belayed with clanking chain it is replaced and rearranged for each successive snap. The screen black with the shutter, arranged anew.

An old woman prostrates herself before a photograph of the Polala Palace, and this is culture shock, future shock. Tibet within China, China outwith Tibet, Hu Wei's film stuns with its simplicity and the quality of its execution. There are layers, obvious and implied, propaganda and perception, the personal and the political, religion and realpolitik. The titular lamp (the Yak is perhaps a construct of translation) is an iconic emblem of Tibet, the young don't usually wear the traditional clothes, an image has greater than expected power, a simple act, a strong reveal, there's talk of the road reducing the journey but there's more than time and space to traverse.

Art about art can make things difficult for itself, but for all that cinema is fascinated with photography the two can make awkward bedfellows. With clarity of vision Hu Wei has created something both refined and illuminating.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2014
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A young photographer takes pictures of Tibetan nomads.

Director: Hu Wei

Writer: Hu Wei, Genden Punstock

Starring: Genden Punstock

Year: 2013

Runtime: 15 minutes

Country: France, China

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