Fantasia 2022 Review: ONE AND FOUR, Chilly and Paranoid and Uneven
Cabin fever and paranoia collide in this frigid whodunnit set in the wintery Tibet woods. Sanggye, the lone forest Ranger in the region, wakes up one morning with ice on his breath, and booze still in his veins. He glances over to see that the wall-clock has stopped, as he reaches under his bed for a one of several bottles, unsupervised and untethered. He takes several moments to steady himself for his duties, oblivious to how much worse his day is about to become. A blizzard is on the horizon, but that is the least of his problems.
He will receive several unexpected visitors to his shabby Ranger station over the course of his day from hell, as alluded to in the title, One And Four. The first arrives poking a rifle through the door frame, his face covered in blood. The stranger claims to be a fellow Ranger and is in pursuit of some poachers on the back-roads nearby when a terrible accident occurred that left his partner dead. Suspicions thicken as the two men set out to investigate the the car wreck, and look for the poacher still out there, hiding in the woods. Or is this man, who claims to be the fellow Ranger, just the poacher in disguise? Things are foggy, and confusing for Sanggye, as he attempts to logically process what has happened, while providing the man spare hospitality. A scene of the two men sharing, or fighting, over roasted portions of rabbit is one of the films more interesting vignettes.
Eventually, the arrival of another man, a local villager named Kunbo (who Sanggye does know), offers a contradictory set of details. Kunbo says he witnessed the accident. Things do not add up. Someone is lying. A fourth man arrives, and also claims to be a forest Ranger on the hunt for poachers. You might see where this is going. First time director Jigme Trinley further amps up the disorienting weirdness with lingering wide angle close-ups of faces, and the curiously overly-lit space of the isolated cabin. Hot breath is expelled into the cold cabin, steaming in front of the men like escaping ghosts. Sanggye is at wits end, still hungover, and on the verge of a mental breakdown. Violence is imminent, inevitable.
An unconventional use of ultra-widescreen, albeit similar to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which also takes place almost entirely in a tiny, rustic, one-room space. Cinematographer Songye Lu’s camera fluctuates from tense faces of the men in the cabin, to stately shots of the Tibetan hinterlands, to snowy bursts of action, where the camera jostles from an almost a first-person, and often unreliable, perspective. To be clear, the ambitious stylistic choices do not always work, and One And Four often feels more like a wild experiment in style or tone
If there is further substance to the film, it remains elusive, as the poaching and the policing angles feels more like a MacGuffin. And yet it plays out more like a small arty affair, a vessel to provide an opportunity for several capable actors, speaking in both Tibetan and Mandarin, to keep the plot spinning and winding until the mainspring eventually snaps. In the end, it is beholden to the genre, with little new to say about the interior psychologies of men, and the lies they tell themselves to survive the day.
Like Sanggye’s chipped coffee mug says, “Preventing forest fires is everyone’s responsibility.” If Sanggye, and the movie itself, appears not quite up to the difficult task of tangling and untangling itself, One and Four still remains an admirable first feature. A potential, not fully realized from a young director with pedigree in the local Tibet film industry. I would love to see further projects such as this one arrive from the region.
One and Four
- Jigme Trinley
- Jigme Trinley
- Zheng Wang