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Movie Review: The Cave Of The Yellow Dog

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From director Byambasuren Davaa, the man who gave us The Story Of The Weeping Camel comes a film that might be best described as a manipulated documentary.

It deals with the life of a nomadic family in Mongolia. They raise sheep and have a few cattle. Their community living tent is a beautiful thing to behold, full of things that are precious to them. The oldest daughter, Nansal Batculuun, comes home from school to her mother, Buyandulam; father, Urjindorj; her little brother, Babbayar; and sister, Nansalmaa. For all I can tell this is a real family and what we see is how they live their lives. Their nomadic life is a solitary one and it is while Nansal is out collecting dung for the fire that she finds a young dog in a cave.

She drags the puppy home and announces that she is keeping it. Her mother is wishy washy on the subject, but knows that her husband will not approve. Earlier in the film they lost two sheep to a pack of wolves. To him a wild dog is just as bad. But, Nansal is quite stubborn and willing to fight with her father concerning the dog who she names Zophar (it means Spot). And this is from a girl who really can’t be any older than eight or ten. It is amazing to watch her assert herself in the family at such a young age.

This is why I’m referring to the film as a manipulated documentary. It is obvious that this is a real family unit and they are living their lives so that it can be captured on camera. But, then there are things like finding the dog and when Nansal wanders off in search of the dog and gets lost. She winds up at an old woman’s home and is cared for until her mother finds her. Well, the camera crew was in both places so she was never really lost. See what I mean? It is a little confusing at first, but once you embrace the concept it tells a sweet story of a family and their dog.

Of course there are some heavy handed statements about the encroachment of civilization. They have a windmill to generate electricity and for long trip they use a motorcycle. It is amusing to see them break camp down at the end of the film and use their beasts of burden to haul the motorcycle.

Regardless of the odd shape that the narrative takes, this is a beautiful film to watch filled with gorgeous vistas of unspoiled wilderness and a small family and how they make their way across the world and survive in it.

In the end The Cave Of The Yellow Dog is entertainment, regardless of how the film makers got there.

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