The title may be reminiscent of Rana's Wedding or The Syrian Bride—two movies that get at politics and ethnography through the supposedly universal experience of a wedding ceremony—but the Golden Bear winner Tuya's Marriage takes the opposite tack. For Tuya (Yu Nan), the difficulty of eking out a living in Inner Mongolia is a given; it's the institution of marriage that has to be stretched and massaged until it conforms to the circumstances of her life. Politics hum in the background, in the forces that are pushing her family away from a nomadic lifestyle and in a squabble over water rights, but the central conflicts of the plot are on a human scale.

Tuya is a no-nonsense shepherdess, chasing her flock over chilly hills on horseback. Ever since her husband, Bater (played by a nonactor named Bater), was paralyzed while digging a well, she has been the sole provider for him and their two children. Tuya's Marriage has the broad shape of a romantic comedy (until the end), and while Tuya is out with the flock one day, she stumbles across a drunken friend named Senge lolling on the ground—a Mongolian take on meet-cute. But Senge is still in love with his runaway wife, and Tuya is devoted to Bater. The unique thing about the screenplay (by Wang Quan An and Lu Wei) is that neither of these commitments really changes. When Tuya becomes injured and has to find a new husband to support her, we pull for Senge, since he is willing to allow the discarded Bater, who has no claim to Tuya's continued support, to come to live with their new family.

The arid landscape, seen with a patriotic affection, is a stirring sight. More wonderful, though, is the story: unusual, understated, and sincere.