With The Cave of the Yellow Dog, director Byambasuren Davaa only tweaks the template of her 2004 docudrama The Story of the Weeping Camel, employing a slightly more melodramatic narrative for her depiction of the day-to-day routines and cultural predicament of nomadic Mongolians. The friction between her real-life protagonist clan’s traditional customs and the outlying modern world remains the backbone of Davaa’s ethnographic cinema, in which eloquent, authentic panoramas of the Mongolian plains, nonfiction snapshots of time-honored rituals, and lightly dramatized scenes are all tinged with a mournfulness wrought from the nagging incompatibility of the conventional and the contemporary. After returning home from the town school she attends, young Nansal finds and befriends a black-and-white spotted puppy, an animal that her sheepherder father—fearful that it will attract wolves to their flock—demands she release. As with Davaa’s prior effort, the plight of humans parallels that of their four-legged compatriots, with Nansal’s abandoned dog a reflection of the isolated family’s own status as having been left behind by progress. And as before, the director conveys her story’s social tensions with a light touch, as when Nansal sheds her school uniform for a traditional Mongolian robe and, shortly thereafter, stacks the dung she’s collected for her father like a high-rise building. Complementing this portrait of archaic ways valiantly, if futilely, competing with modernity is an atmosphere rich in folklore, as the titular fable (about a cast-off dog that returned to life as a ponytailed man), discussions about reincarnation, and circular images of a spinning windmill and a mother and child holding hands imbue the proceedings with an elemental, quasi-mystical magic. That The Cave of the Yellow Dog radiates a sense of harmony is all the more impressive considering its Robert Flaherty-like amalgamation of staged and “found” footage, an approach that falters somewhat during a climax in which suspenseful scripting disrupts the air of unaffected naturalism, but which—as with a final vision of the nomads’ caravan heading in the opposite direction of a car megaphone-blasting news about elections—eventually speaks to plotted drama’s aptitude for unassumingly capturing essential human truths.
- Tartan Films
- 90 min
- Byambasuren Davaa
- Byambasuren Davaa
- Nansal Batchuluun, Buyandulam Daramdadi, Urjindorj Batchuluun, Nansalamaa Batchuluun, Babbayar Batchuluun
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