Eclipse of the Gods

 

Eclipse of the Gods. Color. 92 min. 2011

Director: Gu Tao, Zhou Yu.

One of the last Oroqen shamans in Chinese territory remembers fragments of the lost world in which she was born and educated. Guankouni, 73 years old recalls for the journalist the days when her shamanistic religion was still alive, when this tradition was passed from one generation to the next as was done the knowledge needed to carry on their sacred functions. “I don't dance for more than fifty years” she states. “The communists forbade these superstitions and late, during the Cultural Revolution we were targeted, our ritual customs were burnt; our shamanistic customs”.

Under the auspices of the documentary crew, they arrange agree to try to perform once more a new ceremony. New costumes are done. A suitable place is chosen, and the lost songs and dances tried to be remembered, usually without great success.

When the time to perform the ceremony arrives it has become a local and provincial happening with TV crews crowding to film the more interesting scenes and local cadres fighting for a protagonist role. After discussing who will be allowed to take pictures and the way to keep the interests of the local committee properly respected, a big tent is erected, images of the gods are laid on the soil, and the performance arrangement are discussed.  

The date chosen, Sept 1st of 2008, the 55 anniversary of the establishment of the Orogen Autonomous Banner shows that it will be a mockery.  

After a display of their ancestral culture in the local capital that includes traditional singing and dancing, a fashion show of their traditional clothes and some of their former cultural characteristics, including a kind of shamanistic dance, the action moves to the bank of the river where Guankouni will try to call the spirits.

When the moment arrives, under the sound of the drum and the rattle, Guankouni, dressed as could be a traditional shaman, tries to pass her shamanistic powers to her daughter, but there are too many lights and too many people around. The failure of the ceremony makes Guankouni wonder if the spirits she summoned did not showed up because they have not spend the three years of prescriptive learning or because the bighting lights.  

The following year her daughter will dye in a car accident. Maybe we are really assisting at the last days of a dying tradition.

The film is shot far from the primeval forest the Oroqen once inhabited, but in a grey standard apartment of a third category city. Ethnic customs have already disappeared. The shamaness is dressed instead in the fabrics common to the 21st century China of the global age. All romanticism is avoided. The protagonists are divested of any magic aura that could show the viewer that he is witnessing the end of a culture,, the last shootings of an epoch.

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