Film Reviews Mint Chinese Film Festival

Review: Snow Leopard. The beauty of nature skillfully exposed

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Pema Tseden.
  • Producers: Gaowa Siqin, Pema Tseden and Lei Wang.
  • Screenplay by: Pema Tseden.
  • Cinematographer: Matthias Delvaux.

Synopsis: a snow leopard is caught by shepherds who argue about whether to kill it or let it go.

Shotgun Commentary: stunning film with a fascinating story and National Geographic-worthy shots.

The snow leopard and the monk looking at each other intently.
Source: Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden, 2023).


Snow Leopard follows a small TV crew covering an incident in a Tibetan farm. A snow leopard breaks into the sheep pen and kills nine of them, but gets caught in the process. The shepherds need to take into consideration many factors to decide whether to kill it or set it free. This adds a layer of tension into an already captivating story.

The mysterious ways of nature

There are several storylines within the film. Aside from the argument between shepherds, there is the narrative of the Snow Leopard monk. A man who got his nickname due to his love for these animals.

Throughout the movie, we see his friendship with a snow leopard, the one that is now captive in the pen, evolve. It is a relationship of understanding and respect, an example of harmonious living with one’s environment and surrounding fauna. This bond sends a valuable message to the audience about respecting nature, a theme often talked about, but seldom practised.

The Snow Leopard monk connecting with the leopard.
Source: Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden, 2023).

Furthermore, this connection also hints at the notion of reincarnation that exists within Buddhism.

Let’s get metaphysical

The Snow Leopard monk speaks directly about it when he mentions how much he loves photographing these animals and how he wishes that he will reincarnate as one. However, the idea is first introduced when he goes into the sheep pen. He watches the animal as it watches him, and we are first introduced to the black and white format, which will be discussed later on.

He sees himself through the eyes of the feline and feels what it is feeling. After the incident, he says that he has no recollection of being inside the pen. This hints at the possibility that his spirit travels among himself and the leopard, that the animal is his reincarnation, or that it feels that the monk will indeed become a snow leopard in his next life.

The cycle of life and the spiritual connections are relevant in his religion, and it is translated into a remarkable visual journey through a very talented editing job.

Women, amirite?

In addition to the environmental and metaphysical messages, the film also comments on the female situation in these communities. They are cooks, cleaners and breeders, but they don’t have a voice. They obey their husbands or male relatives blindly. Their feelings and thoughts are never taken into consideration, making them socially closer to sheep than they are to men.

The TV crew and shepherds eating birthday cake.
Source: Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden, 2023).

It is gutting to see that women are still being treated like cattle in many parts of the world. Yet it is so rewarding to see features that expose this ugly truth so crudely. Information is key for progress and this movie communicates the reality of these societies superbly, from their tricky relationship with their surroundings to their hierarchy and behaviour.

Devil’s in the details

Snow Leopard takes the representation of real life earnestly. So much so that, despite it being a Chinese film, most of the dialogues, especially between shepherds, are spoken in Tibetan. However, the faithfulness to realism doesn’t end there. The costumes are also spot on: the mixture of fabrics, the colour palette and even the way the pieces are worn is completely accurate.

As for the location, it was shot in the Three Rivers Nature Reserve, in the Tibetan Plateau, which makes every scene not only precise and real, but also drop-dead gorgeous, especially when the leopard or its cub are added to the landscape.

Thoughtful editing

The use of black and white to tell the tale of the monk and the leopard follows a long tradition of separating points of view through colour and the lack of it, one of the latest examples being Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan, 2023).

The snow leopard and the monk in front of a group of people.
Source: Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden, 2023).

Nevertheless, the lack of novelty doesn’t diminish its aesthetic and textual value. While its use is at first confusing, since it appears to be the leopard’s point of view, it is easy to understand afterwards that it symbolises the moments when the monk and the leopard connect. Even if there are other people around, everything other than their bond becomes irrelevant.

The change of format underlines the importance of their link and makes it stand out above all other storylines, endowing it with the seriousness and value it deserves.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • Respect mother nature, and it will respect you back.
  • Treating your family like slaves won’t earn you any respect from outsiders if they are half decent.
  • Calling your partner every five minutes is obsessive, toxic and cringy.
The monk and his father giving food to a snow leopard cub.
Source: Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden, 2023).

What’s your take? Have you watched Snow Leopard? This film had its Cumbrian premiere in the 2024 Mint Chinese Film Festival in Keswick, so if you like its narrative you might want to keep your eyes peeled for their next edition, great things ahead!

Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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