HomeMoviesVenice Film Festival Review: City of Wind (SÈR SÈR SALHI)

Venice Film Festival Review: City of Wind (SÈR SÈR SALHI)


Photo Courtesy of the Venice Film Festival

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen. Coming of age stories about a teenager at odds with their essential cultural role in their hometown could have their own subcategory on Disney+. Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochi’s City of Wind, with its happy ending of self-discovery, certainly follows the broadest of beats, but there’s also much that distinguishes it in this run-of-the-mill genre.

A key (perhaps the key) distinction is that 17-year-old Ze’s (Tergel Bold-Erdene) struggle isn’t about a lack of interest in his cultural significance. As a Mongolian Shaman for the Grandpa Spirit, his community comes to him for help. The two main examples we see are parents with concern for their children, like an older man he calls “Neighbor-Grandpa”, whose alcoholic son (referred to as “Neighbor-Brother”) has trouble maintaining a job. There’s also a woman whose daughter is undergoing life-changing surgery. 

We’re introduced to Grandpa Spirit in the first scene, before we’re introduced to Ze. Performing the ritual in a hut, he’s a hunched over figure in a masked robe, smoking a pipe, and with a voice that very much sounds like a Grandpa who smokes. The revelation that he’s just a 17-year-old boy is jarring to us, but we accept both this and the modern setting very quickly, when the very next scene shows him in school. Donning a school uniform, we see Ze has little trouble blending in with his classmates. 

There’s never a moment in City of Wind where Ze expresses frustration over his role as a Shaman, no scene where he has to perform Shaman duties in lieu of going to a party. Indeed, when he finds what appears to be inner peace (but is instead false and selfish), we see him take care of the clothes and drum he utilizes for his Shaman rituals. It’s as if this false inner peace has him feeling so good that he’s saying “man, even my role as Shaman is going great”, indicating that he sees it as a valuable part of his life. This false inner peace stems from his time with Marala (Nomin-Erdene Ariunbyamba), the girl who underwent heart surgery. 

Though she initially dismisses him as a conman, he visits her in the hospital, and they develop a friendship that evolves into more than friendship. They may do some naughty things together, but it’s typical teenage mischief. Playing around with mannequins, drinking at a nightclub, running from mall security, there’s nothing especially wrong with their antics, and so Malara is never demonized. The issue isn’t with her, it’s with Ze’s perception of her, as the source of his happiness. It may make things appear all fine and dandy in his life, such as the scene when he takes special care of his Shaman garb, but this selfishness is a house of cards, waiting to crumble. 

Despite Ze’s selfish treatment of Marala, they still do have moments of genuine happiness and proper intimacy. Purev-Ochir and cinematographer Vasco Viana fill the film with an assortment of rich, deceptively simple compositions, such as a scene where the two teens are dying their hair. The camera is framed outside the bathroom door, with the bath in the background and the open bathroom door in the mid-ground (nothing in the foreground), they start splashing each other, making for a lot of motion in this background. After a moment, however, they both sense that they both want to go to the next level, and stand opposite each other, frozen, completely in line with the bathroom door frame. The juxtaposition of their silly play as friends in the background, with the frozen, awkward tension in the mid-ground, is a marvelous way to establish the evolution of their relationship. 

Another great shot happens towards the beginning. It starts as a shot of a window, showing us the snowfall outside, as well as Ze’s longing eyes in the reflection. The camera tilts downward, into an over-the-shoulder shot of Ze doing homework at a desk. When his sister enters the room, the camera moves a little in her direction for the duration of their conversation, and then moves back to Ze’s shoulder when his father pats him on it for working so hard. 

It’s a beautiful shot. Without suggesting that an up-and-coming Mongolian filmmaker like Purev-Ochir must aspire for Hollywood, her instincts with blocking could arguably be compared to Spielberg, but putting aside these (justified) praises of the craft of the work, let’s go back to the first moment of the shot. The moment when Ze longingly looks out the window. He’s not just looking at the snowfall, but also at his own reflection. It’s this understanding of self, understanding who he is, that cripples him, and no amount of boyish romance or cleaning of his cloak will make up for that. 

So, towards the end of the film, when he fulfills his role of Shaman without the dressings, but just as Ze, we know he has found himself, and with its gorgeous form and distinct love for its own culture,  City of Wind earns this ever-present catharsis of self-discovery, on its own terms. 


Most Recent

Stay Connected