Friday, January 7, 2011

The Cave of The Yellow Dog

The Cave of the Yellow Dog (Шар нохойн там) is a Mongolian/German co-production that was written and directed by Byambasuren Davaa, and won the 2006 Deutscher Filmpreis Award for Best Children's Picture.

The film's story is a fable about accepting the limitations of life. Davaa blends elements of modern life, folklore, and the customs of the centuries old Mongolian nomadic life, to weave a tale about want and desire, and the hope that comes from accepting the changes and consequences that fill everyone's lives.

Nansal is a young girl who lives with her family of five in a yurt in Mongolia. The family lives off of their livestock. Nansal's father is deeply concerned about his family's tenuous survival because of the wolves that have been attacking their herd.

One day Nansal comes across a cave in which she finds a small black and white dog. She brings the dog home and names it "Zochor" (Spot). Her father takes an immediate disliking to Zochor because he knows that wolves live in the caves where Nansal found him, and they may track his scent, leading the pack to the family and their precious livestock.

Before Nansal's father departs for the nearest town to sell the pelts of the sheep killed by wolves, he tells his wife to get rid of the dog before he returns home. Later, her mother sends Nansal out to watch the herd, but she is distracted and gets lost. Her mother becomes distraught when the herd returns without Nansal and so she goes out looking for her.

Nansal finds refuge in the yurt of an elderly woman. The old lady feeds and shelters Nansal while a storm passes. During the storm the old woman tells Nansal the story of the Cave of the Yellow Dog. In this story, a yellow dog is trapped in a cave with no exit by a man to cure his daughter's illness.

Soon after the storm passes, Nansal's mother finds her and takes her home. In the meantime, her father returns home to find Zochor still living with the family. His anger soon subsides he gives gifts to his wife and children, including a plastic ladle and a flashlight. The father tries to sell Zochor to some wolf hunters, but when Nansal tells them she found him in a cave they call the deal off.

When it is time for the family to move on, they pack up all of their belongings and the yurt and load them onto carts to be pulled by their cattle. The children are put onto the wagons, with Nansal watching her younger brother. Zochor is tied to a stake so he cannot follow them. Nansal is distracted by Zochor and does not see her brother run off.

The family has traveled several miles before they realize that their son is missing. The father turns back immediately and rushes back on his horse. Meanwhile their son is running towards a flock of vultures.
He ventures near a stream, while moving further and further from the still tied up, Zochor. When the son is right next to the flock, Zochor manages to break free and scare them away, before they can attack the young boy.

The father returns with the boy and in the final scene, the family's wagons travel down the road, with Zochor in the wagon with Nansal. As they family moves down the road, a truck driving down the same road is blaring reminders to vote in the upcoming elections.

The strength of this film lies in its story telling. Which is done in a simple and straightforward way but never comes off as overly sentimental or too childish, much in the way great fables or folktales are written. And even if this is not the type of film you wouldn't normally enjoy, it's worth watching for the beautiful cinematography and fabulous score.

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