Margit Adorf interviewed Mongolian director Janchivdorj Sengedorji - the author of a must-see film at Tartuff 2023!
Mongolian director Janchivdorj Sengedorji's The Sales Girl is a mid-paced music-comedy. Philosophical and humorous story flows like a calm river through the Mongolian landscape and people. Despite this, the story is still universally understandable to anyone, and the film is full of pungent and thought-provoking jokes. It's not an intense laugh-out-loud comedy. If that's what you want, find something else to watch.
Saruul, a humble nuclear physics student, got randomly a substitute position at the sexshop. First, she wants to back off, but the forceful boss, Katja, does not want to hear about this. Two opposite women become friends, and the story about their friendship unfolds. The soundtrack is mostly written by a Mongolian band Magnolian (no pun intended!). Eventually, the film itself becomes a music video of the band.
The Sales Girl has been winning awards worldwide; among them are Best Film award from New York Asian Film Festival and Audience award from Udine Film Festival.
The main theme of the film is sexuality and becoming aware of your own body. The story shows that many people feel ashamed or discomfort because of their sexuality and it's actually true. How did you come up with this idea to make a sex-themed comedy? Have you used real life stories in there, what inspired you?
I think an artist spends his lifetime searching for their inner person. There is no manual for life, and it is impossible to have one, in my opinion. However, you are the writer of your own book - your life…
So, with this film, I simply tried to put my inner person out there. I tried expressing it with the characters of Katya and Saruul. Saruul is my childhood me and Katya the present me. Everybody asks why sex shop and sexuality is the
topic? It has been 30 years since Mongolia transitioned into democracy. In that sense, new things and concepts are even newer in Mongolia. Sex shop is not a topic freely discussed back home. So in this film, it is just bait to lurk an
audience. For example, if a baby is given a choice of candy with a regular wrapper or a flashy one, the kid will likely to go after the flashy one. Just like that, if Katya was an owner of a grocery store, I don't think the audience would
have been flattered with the idea.
One of the best elements for me in this movie was the film music, by Mongolian band Magnolian. It was a huge part of the story itself and sometimes movie turned into music video. How important is music for you in movies and in life?
The main character has no one, no friends, but she had music and earphones only. She communicated with her music, which is an wonderful art. It expresses everything from sadness, to happiness, to heartbreak. But the scariest thing is that music encourages loneliness. Through my search for a music that expresses the inner world of Saruul, I chose bands such as Dulguun and Magnolian.
The main character, Saruul, uses music to escape real world, as it helps her to move forward and also ignore hardship that may happen. Sex and music give both comfort for people. Or is it so? Are these comparable?
I agree with your idea that music and sex are kind of comforters for people. Its an escape. Also, music and sex always leave us chances that can hold specific fragments of memories as a nostalgic and repayable scenery.
The film is a coming-of-age story, and also makes peace with aging. Saruul is entering to adulthood and Katya is not so young anymore. Life passes by fast and one has to know what she/he wants from life, to make the right choices. How much your own life experience we see in the film? Have you struggled with similar problems that trouble the characters of this movie? Can you relate to them?
Katya lives in the past while Saruul lives in the future. Although Saruul is studying due her parents
pressure, she accepts her future and living towards it. Katya lives in her past - she can't let go of. But, there is no present time for both characters. So, the conflict is their encounter in the present. There is no past because it is gone
and there is no future as it has not arrived yet - we have present time only. I wouldn’t really say that its based on my life experiences. Notably, it incapsulates everyone’s experience of being young and looking for their inner
person whilst simultaneously becoming self-aware of their confidence in every way. Furthermore, I am almost at Katya’s age now meaning I have being through both mindsets of their ages.
What is the wise thought or lesson that some older person has given you when you were younger? Some great advice that you have followed to this day?
Throughout my adolescents I have heard plenty of wise words from my elderly. But I would say the quote that stuck with me and I live by is “The you today will always be wiser than you were yesterday”
Two main characters are female and they constantly collide with male sexuality, there is a harrasment scene and a skinny-dipping scene when Katya says that these men are old, but not dead, hence the jealousy from wives. Katya also says that it is easier to communicate with men. You are not a female, but you try to understand and draw a picture about female sexuality and being a woman in this movie. Do you think that you have succeeded to understand women? Are they and their desires much different from men?
To be honest, most of my movies has female leads. Obviously, I will never be able to experience a women’s perspective fully physically and mentally. However, I have spent some time observing and trying my best to perceive from a women’s point a view and I hope to some extent I have portrayed it accurately. I would never say men and women’s desires are different or the same.
It is said that making a good comedy is harder than making a drama or action movie. Do you agree? What is that spice or that something that makes a comedy movie a good one, touching one and something that does not insult any viewer groups? What was your main concern about making this movie?
I agree that making a comedy is much harder than making a drama. But people do have a common sense of humor that is commonly acceptable. In this sense I always try to not cross the boundaries of making audiences uncomfortable. But this is not my first comedy movie I have done.
Finally please tell a bit about yourself: why did you choose to become a movie director and what motivated you to pick this profession?
My father is my idol. He's a well-known Mongolian comedy actor and theatre director. Since the day I was born, I was constantly surrounded by a theatrical environment. I would say my family is fully artists. My older brother,
Jamiyansuren Janchivdorj, is also film director and actor.
Do you write all your move scripts yourself? What is the most important thing for a script that makes a good movie? What part is hardest for you?
I do write my own scripts. Most important thing is to have a full idea that is clearly visualized on my mind. If you cannot fully visualize the movie in your mind, you will experience some writer’s blockage when you are writing the script. Also, its vital for me to absorb and perceive the smallest details of my surroundings - the movements, speech, behavior etc. So that I can further adapt it into script to make it more realistic.
Making movies is all about team work, sometimes shooting days are long and hard, filming period can be very harsh both mentally and physically. What do you enjoy doing during your free time, when you are not working?
I love to read and walk. Hiking in mountains makes me relaxed and stress free.