Real-life sibs lend poignancy to family drama

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

on November 10, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
Set in the distant wilds of Mongolia, The Cave of the Yellow Dog follows the travails of a single nomadic family as a decision must be made regarding the prudence of maintaining their nomadic life — herding sheep for wool and milk — amid the danger of an increasing wolf population and the realities of a better life in the city. Amid these issues — which involve questions of politics as well as economics, safety and an interest in modernity — the eldest daughter of the clan, Nansal (all of seven or eight years old), finds a puppy in a cave and decides to keep him, much to the chagrin of her father. As the family makes the decision to leave their centuries-old way of life, Nansal's attachment to the little dog grows ever deeper, leaving a great chasm in her heart when she is expected to leave him behind when the family moves on.

There is a good deal of drama in writer/director Byambasuren Davaa's ( The Story of the Weeping Camel ) simple narrative, little of it original in and of itself but all of it pithy and reflective of a set of real circumstances that these people, in this place, face everyday. The filmmakers use part of an actual nomadic Mongolian family in the movie (the child actors are all siblings), and, though the film is not a documentary, the use of the Batchuluun children, along with a particular focus on the everyday lives and events of nomadic Mongols — from the making of cheese to the disassembly of the Yurt (a sort of structured tent) — brings a profound trueness to every moment of The Cave of the Yellow Dog. This authenticity holds true even when events are contrived for dramatic effect, as they are toward the end of the movie when one of the children is placed in some jeopardy. Along with the poignant and astute narrative, cinematographer Daniel Schonauer's rendering of the Mongolian landscape is breath-taking. It must also be noted that each of the Batchuluun children are extraordinary and that Nansal Batchuluun (both her real and her character's name) is among the most captivating creatures captured on film — ever. Distributor: Tartan
Cast: Batchuluun Urjindorj, Buyandulam Daramdadi, Batchuluun, Nasalmaa Batchuluun and Batbayer Batchuluun
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Byambasuren Davaa
Genre: Family drama; Mongolian-language, subtitled
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: November 10, 2006

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