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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Splendid Land, Review: Xinjiang is a many splendoured place

Splendid Land, Review: Xinjiang is a many splendoured place

The China-Greece co-production documentary, Splendid Land, directed by Eleni Vlassi and Jin Huaqing, presents the wonderful land of Xinjiang, China and its ancient customs, through a musician pursuing the Mukam music and the spectacular landscape.  Seldom has so much splendour been captured in such a short span. The film is only twenty minutes long, but it flows along seamlessly, and when it ends, you are left craving for more.

Xinjiang (pronounced Xinjang), officially the Xinjiang Uygur (Uighur) Autonomous Region (XUAR), is a land-locked autonomous region of the People's Republic of China (PRC), located in the north-west of the country, close to Central Asia. Being the largest province-level division of China and the 8th-largest country sub-division in the world, Xinjiang spans over 1.6 million square kilometres (620,000 sq mi) and has about 26 million inhabitants, formed of 47 different ethnic groups, including Kazakhs and Tajiks.

Xinjiang borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The rugged Karakoram, Kunlun and Tian Shan mountain ranges occupy much of Xinjiang's borders, as well as its western and southern regions. Xinjiang also borders the Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. The most well-known ancient Indo-China Silk Road ran through the territory, from the east, to its north-western border.

An actor plays the composite of several people who might have visited the region and shared the experiences. Though there is no dialogue, there is an English voice-over that is attributed to him, along with English sub-titles. He suits the part, and comes across as a musician, a painter and an intrepid traveler, who regrets that the Covid 19 Coronavirus pandemic, is preventing him from re-visiting the land where people dance at every occasion, and even without an occasion. The breath-taking landscapes, the expressive faces, the dazzling costumes, the captivating customs and traditions, the musical instruments, mainly the satar (a cousin of the Indian sitar?) are a treat to the eyes and ears.

Three different locales are used: South-East England, where the man reminisces about his past travels, the rural deserts, mountains and oases in Xinjiang, and the metropolis of Urumqi, the capital city, which can give any happening city a run for its money. South-East England seems to be an arbitrary choice and the decision to use a European actor makes it easier for Western audiences to identify with the film.

A Greco-Chinese co-production, it is directed by the woman-man duo of Eleni Vlassi and Jin Huaqing. Vlassi has been making films since 2009 and her work got good notice with the 2011 outing, The Land of the Weeping Gods. Other films include Canyons of Ierapetra, The Revelant, Two Worlds, Minoan and Cretan Flavours, On the Silk Roads, Is the Woman Afraid of the Man, Dam and Land of the Painful Virgin Mary.

Jin Huaqing, from China, was born in 1984, and has directed films which have received more than 54 awards in international film festivals, in 18 countries. His documentaries and shorts have been broadcast over Al Jazeera (Qatar) and BBC, among other TV channels. Titles include The Tibetan Girl, Dark Red Forest, Endless Road, Blossom with Tears, Lament of Yumen, Desire of Changhu, Heavy Metal and Living with Shame.

Visuals, mostly natural, are rivetting. And the sounds—ambient, music and voice over—are of high quality. 

Rating: ****


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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