Cinema Epoch // 2006 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 21st, 2008
Love and survival in an exotic land.
In the bitter cold of the Mongolian steppe, love and life come at a premium. The hardships for those who live in such brutal conditions helps to forge relationships hearty as the trees that manage to survive winter after winter. This environment and the people who struggle through it are rarely seen in film. Filmed during a winter with an average temperature of -22 degrees on set, My Beautiful Jinjiimaa has a warmth of humanity and a realistic style that is satisfying but, ultimately, heartbreakingly tragic.
Jinjiimaa (Natsagdorj Battsetseg), a young deaf woman, is raped by her local party chairman. In protecting herself, she shoots him but does not kill him. To keep her out of prison, her friend Sukhee (Purevdorj Tserendagva) takes the sentence himself. Six years later, Sukhee is released. He returns to Jinjiimaa to find her with a now six year old daughter. He moves in with them, sharing the workload and raising the young girl as his own. They fall in love and, when Sukhee hears of an operation that could restore Jinjiimaa's hearing, he sells everything he owns to afford it. While Jinjiimaa is away, however, the chairman returns looking to take the child he forced into creation. Sukhee, at the peril of his own life, refuses to give her up and, in retaliation, the chairman has their home burned to the ground. Sukhee barely escapes with the girl's life and they flee but, when Jinjiimaa returns, she is led to believe that they are dead. Devastated, she must resume her life in sorrow. Sixteen years pass with Sukhee and the girl, now a young woman, holding out a shred of hope that, one day, they'll find their beautiful Jinjiimaa.
The relationship between Jinjiimaa and Sukhee is an interesting one, fraught with sorrow but totally realistic. There is no courtship in their romance; they are together by necessity. Jinjiimaa is deaf and Sukhee is crippled. Though the village looks out for them, they are outcasts. The child, because of the reason for her conception and her lack of a father, makes them even more so. They work hard but slow and this forgotten household has been left to its own devices to survive this brutal environment. Sukhee has sacrificed so much to save her, but it never appears that she stays with him out of any sense of obligation. On the contrary, it is Sukhee who feels a continued obligation to care for Jinjiimaa. They care for each other beautifully, each working alongside the other to keep their meager home standing and warm. Their relationship creates the picture of hard working rural life.
Before she regains speech, Jinjiimaa explains during her internal monologs that her only real dream is to hear her daughter's voice. This kind of simple desire is what make My Beautiful Jinjiimaa work so well. They don't have dreams of escaping their meager lives for fame and riches; they only strive to enjoy what they have to the fullest. No matter how difficult their lives are and how rough the terrain, they make it work and can lead a beautiful life. For all the effectiveness of this message of hope, however, the power of My Beautiful Jinjiimaa comes from how quickly and easily director Ochir Mashbat cuts all the hope out from under us. He takes everything away and leaves the characters with nothing but despair. The characters' virtue is in finding more hope out of this adversity and continuing the cycle. They are realistic and easily relatable. The actors have a natural, calm feel, stoically taking the beating that life gives them in a way that succeeds in making us care about the good times and turning the bad into tragedy.
The most striking thing about My Beautiful Jinjiimaa, however, is the Mongolian landscape. The expanses of snow-covered badlands with tops of barely living trees poking through the surface are a spectacular sight. The winter looks every bit as cold as advertised; it's amazing their cameras didn't freeze. The bleakness of the outside contrasts nicely with brightly colored interiors that appear much warmer than I'm sure they are. This place looks too cold for me and I'm glad I can see it from my living room and not first hand. Cinema Epoch's transfer of My Beautiful Jinjiimaa does a more than adequate job of displaying these contrasts, with clarity in the exteriors and richly saturated reds and oranges inside. The transfer is full frame, but this appears to be intended, and does well with the cheap video image. Reportedly, Mongolia didn't make its first color picture until 1979, so there isn't much one can expect in technical respects, and it is rightfully more concerned with the story than the look. The Mongolian dialog is easily heard, but it's a shame that the subtitles are burned onto the image. The music comes through clearly in the stereo sound. Most of the music is bland, but the title song is evocative and sounds very good in the mix. There are no extras on the disc. Cinema Epoch could have done more in the way of presentation, but the image and sound are both very fine.
My Beautiful Jinjiimaa is the first film from Mongolia that I've seen, and I found myself moved by the heart and soul of the actors. Sometimes, the story seems to pile on the tragedy, though it does balance well with the joy the characters express in the difficulty of their lives. It is effective on all levels and serves as a fine introduction to a virtually unknown film industry.
Guilty of making a grown man cry.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Mongolian)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated