Knife in the Water (2016) - full transcript

Ma Zishan (Yang Shengcang) is an aging Muslim farmer, part of the Hui minority. He and his family eke out an existence farming on an arid moonscape in China's northwest Ningxia province. ...

Peace be upon you.

And upon you Peace.

What do you think of this
scarf of your Mother's?

Where's Dad?

He'll be back soon.

Where's the fire poker?

Give me the poker!

Give me the poker!

Give me the poker!

Give me the poker!

Hey, I'm looking for that!

Bring that poker back!

Come here!

Give me the poker!

Bring the poker back!

I need that!

Give me the poker!

Qasim, bring it over here!

Give me the poker!

Hello Dad.

Give me the poker!

Hello Dad.

Bring that poker back!

I need that!

Hey you two, bring that back!

Bring it over here! Qasim!

Give it to me.

Dad, we need to talk about Mother's
40-day purification ceremony.

What should we do for purification?

Light some incense,

fry some pancake, that's enough.

For smaller ceremonies it can be simple,

but all our relatives will come on the 40th day.

We could slaughter a chicken or a lamb,

but it might not be enough.

If a lamb isn't enough what else do you want?

My mother worked her whole life,

and never asked for anything in return.

Now that she's gone I want to Honor her.

I was thinking, that bull is getting old,

and since we can't afford to buy a new one...

If we slaughter it what'll we use in the fields?

That bull's too old that its
stomach is beginning to drop.

How much longer do you think
it'll be able to plow the fields?

Alright, it's up to you.

Don't put it on us.

You're the one that should decide.

I think the bull is a good
way to honor my mother.

But if you don't agree we don't have to.

Qasim, come dig up this grass.

We'll need extra to feed the bull.

Where are you going?


I came to see how my nephew's leg is doing.

It still looks swollen!

It is.

If I don't get better,

what will my family do?

I have three kids in school.

Don't be ridiculous.

Trust in Allah.

Don't worry about the rest of it.

Before your aunt died, she told me

that she owed you 5 yuan.

She made me promise I'd return it.

No, don't worry about it.

Go on, take it.

A debt needs to be settled.

Since my accident,

I can't even get out of bed.

When Aunt died I wasn't
even able to see her off.

Aunt would always pay back a loan,

no matter how small.

This money

reminds me of that day.

He had wired me some money

and I was going to the market.

I saw Aunt on the way

so we went together.

She bought some salt and some vegetables.

At a street stall she bought
some paint and a thimble.

I bought some tea for my father-in-law,

and a pair of shoes,

and also a bag of washing powder.

When she saw my shoes she liked them a lot.

And she asked me how much they had cost.

I told her they had cost me six yuan.

She said she only had one yuan on her,

so she borrowed 5 yuan and
bought a pair for herself.

I wanted to tease her and said:
"your son has a job in the city,"

"you should be able to buy whatever you want!"

I saw she was embarrassed.

She said: "my son has his own
family to take care of."

"He can't support his mother, too."

She said she would pay me
back as soon as she could.

I told her to forget about it.

It seems like yesterday.

It's dark in here.

Dad? Are you here?

Dad, time for dinner.

Have some tea.

How are the arrangements for the ceremony?

Almost done.

Make yourself comfortable.
I'm going to feed the sheep.

What can I help you with today?

Go ahead, I have time.

I need you to help get me a gravesite.

Why are you thinking about it now?

Oh, come on.

I'm getting older.

It will happen sooner or later,

and the kids won't pick a good spot.

I won't rest easy.


it really doesn't matter where one is buried.

But since you brought it up,

I don't think it's an unreasonable request.

Go over to the mosque and talk to them.

I can't really get involved in religious issues,

you know how people talk.

Isn't that right?

I'll talk to the Imam,

but it would be better if
you could talk to him, too.

Sure, I can help you out.

I'll talk to him.

We'll get it sorted out.


Where is Yakub?

He went to the market.

Uncle, have some food.

It's okay, I'm not hungry.

You've been waiting for Dad all afternoon.

Just have a little.

Go on.

I'm not hungry.

My daughter-in-law wants you to eat.

You can't say no to her.

Go on.

I don't feel like eating.


No thanks.

Come on, don't be ridiculous.

Eat with me.

Okay. Let's eat.

Brother, what are your plans
for the 40-day ceremony?

Everything is almost ready.

We'll slaughter the bull for the ceremony.

Then the 40 days will be over.

That sounds right.

She worked her whole life,

it's good to slaughter the bull for her.

Have some more.

Okay, fine.

You too.

This is delicious.

The potatoes are good.

Have some more.

No, really.

Help yourself.

Thanks! I'm full.

You've only had half a bowl.

It's delicious.

That's enough, really.

I can't eat anymore.

You never come to see me.
Is there a reason you came today?

This old bull...

I like to sit with him sometimes.

All these years,

we've had our differences.


I need to ask for some food.

You understand,

the baby is coming soon.

I'm already in my fifties.

She isn't young, either.

It's hard to raise a baby.

There's no rice at home,

and nothing to make porridge.

It's all I think about.

There's a relative

who is rich.

He lives in a big house.

But it's not even worth

asking him for help.

He wouldn't even give me a piece of bread.

I won't give him the satisfaction of refusing.

You're my only option.


What's wrong, Dad?

Get some rice for your uncle.

Your aunt will have her baby soon,

and they don't have anything to eat at home.

Hello, Dad.

Fatima, come eat some bread.



This is what you eat every day. No?

It's not.

Get up.

Where's your brother?

He ate all the sugar.

Mommy hit him and now he's over there crying.

Tattletale! All you do is laugh at me.

When we slaughter the bull,

I get both scapulas.

I'll take them to the mosque
and I won't give you any!

Dad, I'm going to get some-water.

How much did you spend for the last ceremony?

The chickens were ours,

I just had to buy the flour,
vegetables and spices.

It was about 200 yuan, give or take.

You should keep track.

Did you include the money
you gave the Imam for the ritual?

That was another eighty yuan.

What are you planning for
your mother's 40-day ceremony?

We'll do a ritual for the sacrifice.

There will be a lot of people here.

We should make it a good ceremony.

Spices, flour, sauces...

altogether it will be more than 500 yuan.

Not including the money
we'll give the Imam for the ritual.

The more people from the mosque we invite,

the more Imams will come,

and with all the people,
it will be more than 500 yuan.

Do we have enough?

More or less.

Don't worry about it.

Why is there no water here?

Did you lower the bucket to the bottom?

It's all gone.

It's only been a few days since
we filled the water tank.

We've been careful.

How come?

What should we do?

I'll go down to the river and get some water.

We can use that to wash the bull.

He probably won't drink it.

Go buy some from town.


How can the baby come if you don't eat?

How is that possible?

Quickly, give her some sugar water.

Fasten that belt on her.

The baby's coming.


Why isn't it coming?

Shake her a little.


Try a bit more.

Bend over.

Can you see the baby's head?

Yes, it's there.

Push! It's almost over.


Peace be upon you.

And upon you Peace.

His name is Mansur.

Thank the Almighty Allah.


Thanks to all.


Dad, why isn't the bull
eating or drinking anything?

Dad, you said the bull is a divine creature.

I have something I need to discuss.

What is it?

That bull of mine is old,
and it can't plow anymore.

Yakub wants to sacrifice it
for his mother's 40-day ceremony.

That would be a good thing.

Give it a higher purpose.

The ceremony is approaching,

but the bull won't eat or drink anything.

Not even fresh alfalfa.

I know the tale of the bull seeing the
knife in the water before the sacrifice.

This is the wonder of Allah.

One of his secrets.

I see.

I am frightened of this, and joyful, too.

This is a ritual sacrifice.

Not to eat or drink is to cleanse oneself
and prepare for death.

That is a divine act.

I've treated this bull badly.

We all have our own destiny.

This bull is noble.

We are blind and ignorant.

Do not judge.

Man can be noble as well.

Come see the bull.


Let's not.

Let's give him some peace.

Dad, I told Uncle about the bull.

How is your work in the city?

Everything's alright.

Don't go back after the ceremony.

The crops were good this year.

We can plant more potatoes.

We'll have enough water in the well to get by.

I need to work to earn some money.

The kids are in school.

The rainfall was good this year,

but if it doesn't rain next year,

we will need extra money separate
from the potato selling income.

I want to make some money,

to fix up this old house.

All you think about is work.

It's hard to find an easy job.

If something happened to you,

what would happen to me and the kids?

Who would take care of us?

Life in the city is easy.

It's easier than working as a farmer.

I don't think about the
bad things in the future.

You might as well just sit
at home and get sick tomorrow.

Hurry up!


Hurry up!

Mum, look what Fatima did!

She got her pants all wet.

Mum, come look!

I need to go to the market.

You take care of things here.

Please don't go anywhere today.

I mean it, Dad.

People are coming over today.

Can't you stay home today?