Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 27, 2022 8:45 pm 
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JANCHIVDORJ SENGEDORJ: THE SALES GIRL Худалдагч охин (MONGOLIA 2021) - NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

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BAYARTSETSEQ BAYANGEREL AND DULGUUN BAYASQALAN IN THE SALES GIRL

TRAILER [without subtitles]

Odd job

From the look of The Sales Girl the director Janchivdorj Sengedorj has much wit, even if slipping on a banana peel is an obvious visual joke to open with. The camera plants itself square in front of a path and watches till somebody falls on the banana peel, and it's a student called Namuuna, who breaks her leg. She seeks out the protagonist, Saruul (Bayartsetseg Bayangerel), to fill in her afternoon job. Saruul is shy and withdrawn, sure to be discreet, needed because the job is in a sex shop.

Bayangerel, who plays this role, goes through a transformation from drab girl to sleek, confident beauty very convincingly and very fetchingly. She is a glory of this tale. But so also is the owner of the sex shop, the owner's house, the market place where Saruul's parents work, the differently ornamented felt slippers they make to sell there, and the sounds we hear all around us. Sengedorj's way with sound is a special delight. We prick up our ears to hear the great variety of ambient sounds and the way they meld into the score - because the music is at all times diegetic, part of the local environment, performed by a small band, singer Dulguun Bayasgalan and the popular indie group Magnolian.

Saruul is often hearing the band, and us with her, through the big headphones she likes to wear. Once on a bus as she sings along a young man sitting in the back is singing along too: he happens to be the leader of the band. At the end before the credits and through them the whole band appears, drums, three guitars, and a violin, playing on the wide promenade Saruul walks along, strutting her stuff now.

Every day Saruuj, a student of nuclear engineering to please her parents who wants to be an artist, has to take the day's cash from the sex shop to the store owner, Katya (Enkhtuul Oidovjamts). Oidovjamts is the other glory of the movie and almost seems to dominate it, were Saruuj's (i.e. Bayangerel's) transformation not so vivid and so attractive to watch. Katya has had many lives and many husbands and is a little bit famous. She is sophisticated, so is her apartment, and she speaks Russian. But now she lives alone with the alcohol she tipples, the cigarettes she smokes, and a cat called The Boy. Saruuj starts spending more and more time with her. She is learning a great deal, and having fun. Katya also obviously needs her; she's lonely. Sometimes Katya's pronouncements on life are a bit tiresome or irrelevant. But the point is, she is teaching Saruuj to pay attention, to care.

There is also a young man, terribly bored and wanting to become an actor, who has a huge dog. He and Saruuj sit in front of her apartment building talking of nothing much. But like the pistol in the play, he will be used later on.

Not everything makes sense or fits and there may even be some continuity trip-ups, but Sengedorj gives pleasure because he's confident and has panache. Scenes follow one another unexpectedly but inevitably and while sometimes things heat up, he knows when to take a break.

The sex shop has its moments too of course, and it's a lovely one, red walls, glowing light, dildoes and inflated dolls attractively arranged as if there were a place to have sex, not just shop for it. The shop is part of Katya's mystery: why? She doesn't seem to need the money. But she believes in sex shops, and also in horoscopes and fortunes and good and bad luck. Around her hovers a hint of spirituality and magic realism. To Katya Saruug brings openness and laughter.

Somehow as a result of spending time with Katya, Saruug's fuzzy, drab looking face starts to be smooth and glow and her hairdo gets better. And then she sleeps with a boy and that leads to a talk with her parents. It's not about the boy. It's about her major. She begins wearing skirts, sometimes red, and painting in an art class; physics has been dropped: her life begins.

The Sales Girl is the kind of festival experience that makes one wish small movies from obscure countries could find a wider audience. A delightful, richly accomplished film.

The Sales Girl Худалдагч охин, 123 mins., debuted at Osaka. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere. It won the NYAFF best feature award.

NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
Thursday, July 28
6:30 PM at the Walter Reade Theater
Q&A with Janchivdorj Sengedorj

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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