Director Tashi Gyeltshen tells the story of 16-year old Sangay, who is the daughter of the local carver. Deriving from a rather untypical coming-of-age setting, the plot takes an unexpected dark turn.
The drama unfolds in front of a beautiful staged mountain panorama. Protagonists are the inhabitants of a sparsely populated valley. Jigme T. Tenzing’s cinematography catches the mysticism of a virgin-like landscape. Untouched by modern civilization, old traditions, folklore, and the caste system are held up high. Sangay’s father, named Ap Atsara, contributes to this lifestyle making wooden Phalluses for religious ceremonies.
“Who said I’m not strong enough?”, are the words of the rebellious young main protagonist. At first, Sangay makes a lethargic and somewhat lazy impression. As the movie continues to reveal her past, the character of the silent girl emerges. Sangay is played by Tshering Euden. Her acting is captivating and outstanding. “The Red Phallus” is her first film and also the first full-length feature film of Tashi Gyeltshen. The whole crew did an amazing job capturing the feeling of the environment and turning it into a metaphor for the cruel interpersonal proceedings that take place. The alpine landscape covered by clouds hides the light just as the characters are hiding the truth behind their masks.
Symbolism mixed with rural simplicity represented in calm shots. The imagery has a clear structure and the frames imply a static order of things, which are broken by Sangay. Crossing the screen, stirring up the idyllic panorama, she is haunted by the demons of the past. In these scenes, Gyeltshen points out the troubled emotional life of a girl unable to vent what’s on her mind. In the end, Sangay releases her anger, emancipates from her powerlessness and takes action.
“The Red Phallus” is definitely a slow burner. A movie that takes its time to establish a dramatic climax. But is much more than a nice advertisement for the region by showing marvelous nature shots. Besides the well crafted technical aspects of the film, Sangay’s development challenges outdated patterns of society. The viewer’s patience is rewarded with a courageous feature mastering a gritty atmosphere.