Can cinema get sweeter than The Cave of the Yellow Dog, Byambasuren Davaa’s German produced graduation film and follow-up to her successful debut effort, The Story of the Weeping Camel?
The film shows a few days in the life of a Mongolian nomad family as they prepare to pack up and move on at the end of the summer. The couple have three small children, the oldest one (Nansal Batchuluun, who is about five or six) being the pivot of the story. She finds the dog of the title in a cave but her father is reluctant to take the animal with them because it may have grown up with wolves.
What follows is a series of lingering shots of infants playing, natural landscapes and small domestic deeds. The sheer beauty of the cinemetography makes it impossible for any feelings of monotony to interfeer with the pleasure of watching untrammeled life reproduced on the screen on the back of the slightest hint of narrative. Davaa certainly has a visible skill to create cinematic minimalism.
True, if you decide to take the cynical route to seeing this film, you could say it was made with Western audiences in mind, eager for a dose of innocence which is no longer possible to find in the industrialised, cynical West. Even this point of view, though, would not have the strength to dismiss Davaa’s obvious skills as a filmmaker but it could provide an angle from which to understand the origin of feelings of tenderness stemming from a film experience. So my assumption is that there are two opposing possibilities whereby this film may be received: the cynical might see it as a type of National Geographic piece of ethnoploitation financed by Europeans. And the rest will choose not read too much into The Cave of the Yellow Dog and go with its poetic flow. I’ve chosen the latter option.
Audience reception issues apart, it’s worth mentioning the memorable screen presences of Batchuluum Urjindorj and Buyandulam Daramdadi Batchuluum as the parents of the family; their unaffected, serene presence works perfectly for the style of the film. And the children are something beautiful to behold and it’s no wonder The Cave of the Yellow Dog is almost a documentary on the gracefulness of infants at their most enchanting.
The Cave of the Yellow Dog is released in the UK on 30/06/06.