The Horse Thief
One of the greatest achievements of Fifth Generation Chinese cinema, Tian Zhuangzhuang's ravishingly beautiful epic set in the vastness of rural Tibet was famously praised by Martin Scorsese as the best film he saw in the 1990s.
The story is stark, the landscape lunar and the dialogue minimal, but Thief is more sumptuous than ascetic, its glorious CinemaScope compositions keyed to carmine: the saffron robes of serried monks, the crimson gold of temple interiors ablaze with banks of candles, the firelit scarlet of Norbu's hut, the red glow of a bonfire around which elaborately masked ritualists madly dance.
The visual pageantry — rendered in a showy array of tracks, pans, dissolves, superimpositions, and one crane shot — is matched by a soundtrack of growling basso chants and eerie modernist choruses, the whir of prayer wheels, peals of tubular bells, the thrum of hand drums, and the rumble of Buddhist dungchen. In this recently struck 35mm print, The Horse Thief should prove resplendent.
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