Abstract

Buddhism provides the vocabulary for film auteur Pema Tseden to express a psychological dimension in his Amdo‐Tibetan stories. Drawing on the Tibetan Buddhist concept of bardo, the transitional space between sleep and waking, or death and rebirth, his works encapsulate surrealist flow of consciousness of the characters as they are torn between religious principles, modern imperatives, and conscience. Specifically, Balloon exposes an Amdo woman's choice between having an abortion in compliance with China's 1990s birth control policy or enabling the prophesized rebirth of a family forebear. The film extends Pema Tseden's earlier experiment in Jinpa, which enacts an intrapsychic dialogue in a dream, by using a religiously inflected visualization of the state of mind in the threshold between death and the next life. Balloon's passionate reenactment of a luminous afterlife landscape and its reflexive and even questioning attitudes toward the concept of reincarnation create an intriguing tension. Its central imagery, the inflated condom balloon, is a “semi‐transparent envelope,” to borrow British novelist Virginia Woolf's phrase, which suggests the inscrutability of the characters’ internal experiences. The balloon is also a “semi‐transparent filter” of the director's ambiguous affects, encapsulating cultural intimacy and cultural contemplation within a non‐dual framework.

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