The Sales Girl, Mongolia, 2021
By: Claus Mueller, Senior Editor
Screened first at the Osaka Asian Film Festival, the 2021 feature THE SALES GIRL by Mongolian director Janchivdorj Sengedorj premiered in North America at the New York Asian Film Festival in July 2022. Selected for NYAFF’s Uncaged Competition focusing on 8 features by directors deserving more international attention.
THE SALES GIRL was selected as the best film in the group. This well deserved credit is due in part to the director Sengedorj being one of the most innovative Mongolian film makers. Sengedorj has directed four other films since 2010. Bayartsetseg Bayangerel, in her role as the sales girl Saruul delivers a superb performance in her first film and deserves as much acclaim as the director.
For the American and European audience, this Mongolian film further enhances the reputation of Mongolia’s film industry. After the 1990 democratic revolution, productions moved from state run film studios to private and independent film companies. Between 1992 and 1997 more than 20 private film companies were established and produced about 100 films. Among the best known is the acclaimed “Story of the Weeping Camel” nominated in 2003 for the academy award as best foreign documentary. Films from Mongolia have received many awards from festivals in Asia.
Though relatively unknown in Western countries, Mongolian filmmaking goes back to the 1930s when the first independent film was produced. A new film law was passed last year offers reimbursements and credits for the production and post-production of films in Mongolia, ranging from location expenses, employment of Mongolian staff, to content with Mongolian themes.
From virtually any perspective, THE SALES GIRL is an outstanding production. There is the acting performance of Saruul accidentally accepting a clerk’s job in a well-stocked sex shop in Mongolia’s capital. She is a young, subdued, and shy student studying nuclear engineering as requested by her parents. She adapts, without hesitation, to a world totally alien to her.
The script has no flaws, and the cinematography is perfectly framed. In the narration, there are no superfluous moments, and the realism of comedic moments prevails. Saruul spikes her parents’ tea with Viagra to invigorate their dormant activity and gives the same pill to her boyfriend’s sleepy dog to energize him. The same holds for her failing self-stimulating attempt with toys from the sex shop. Maintaining total secrecy, she deals with all kinds of customers, including her elderly female teacher, no matter how strange their requests for pleasure enhancers are.
Saruul is in a transitory adolescent phase, yet she seems to be driven by an investigative exploratory spirit and by her passion for art. Accordingly, the filmmaker handles sex in cautious sensitive way. In this superbly orchestrated film, passion and sex play a secondary role. Saruul’s passage into growing up is accompanied by Katya, the eccentric sex shop owner who is never in the shop. They meet in her place, for diners, restaurants, and on trips. During their verbal encounters, prompted in part by Saruul’s questions, she gets to know Katya as a complex person with many personal relationships. She learns from Katya the intricacies and meaning of sexual desires.
Saruul comes to understand the precious nature of true emotional involvement, no matter what the circumstance may be. Enkhtuul Oidovjamt’s performance as Katya the mentor is finely nuanced and expressive. The film is enhanced by a score provided by the indie band “Magnolian” accompanying Saruul throughout the story and ending the film with an on screen performance.