Bhutan | 2018 | 85 min | Dzongkha | Director Attending
In the gloomy, remote valley of Phobjika in central Bhutan lives the widow Ap—a traditional painter and craftsman who specialises in making wooden phalluses. For the past 20 years, Ap has also played the role of atsara, or clown, at a local annual festival and now, as he prepares to retire, he is looking to pass the role on to a younger talent. Meanwhile Ap’s teenage daughter Sangay finds herself unhappy with her lot, oppressed by the vastness of the valley and living in opposition to her father, her schoolmates and the rest of the villagers whose world is governed by religious belief and symbolism. As she struggles to find congruence between her inner life and external relationships, Sangay becomes involved with a man from the lowest caste in the village—a butcher. She also discovers a mask and, behind it, a world she never wished to enter.
Tashi Gyeltshen, who lives in Thimphu, Bhutan, was born in 1972. After a career as a journalist with newspapers Kuensel and the Bhutan Times, he worked as an assistant director for a production company in Bangkok. Tashi’s first short film, Girl with a Red Sky (2009), was commissioned by UNICEF in conjunction with Bhutan’s Youth Development Fund, and was followed by 2014’s The Red Door. In 2010, Tashi won the best screenplay award at the Film Festival of Bhutan for Sem Gi Jurwa. “A story first comes to me as a question,” he muses. “I have attended many festivals and received blessings from the atsaras’ phalluses and have always wondered what kind of person is behind those funny red masks and weird costumes? Are the symbolism and the sanctity of the outer shell more important than the actual person inside? Have our masks become our identity?”