Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)

Cave of the Yellow DogNote: Mongolian with English and Spanish subtitles [also contains optional English dubbed version].

`The Cave of the Yellow Dog" released in '05 is a remarkably unique and fascinating journey into the landscape and soulscape of a real life Mongolian family. Join Nansal and her younger sister, little brother and parents on their neverending nomadic journey as the quide their flock of sheep from one grazing field to the next.

The film chronicles the daily activities of a solitary nomadic family trying to survive the elements, packs of wolves and vultures while trying to raise three small children. The story centers on the oldest child, Nansal. Nansal is approximately eight or nine years and lives with relatives in the city most of the year so she can attend school. Now that summer has arrived she has returned to her family where she resumes her old way of life. She helps with the sheep, collects dung and watches over her younger siblings. On one dung collecting expedition she finds a dog and forms an immediate bond with the animal. She names her new playmate Konchar and brings him home. Her parents reaction to their new guest is mixed and the question arises; is the dog a hindrance that will attract wolves into their camp, or was it sent by fate for some undisclosed purpose. It is here that the concept of reincarnation delicately weaves its thread through the storyline. Will stubborn little Nansal be able to convince her parents that the arrival of the dog is a good thing or will she have to abandon her new friend when it's time to move on?

The affectionate nature of this delightful family exudes onto the screen as the two adoring parents continue living a life style that is fast growing extinct. The story is enchanting, the three children adorable and the Mongolian landscape magnificent. Whether approached as documentary, travel log, family faire, intelligent drama, or spiritual teaching, the film works well within all the fore mentioned categories. `The Cave of the Yellow Dog' also possesses a simple but elegant soundtrack reminiscent of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is a remarkable cinematic achievement and a moving, unforgettable experience that so clearly points out that even in so vastly different cultures and lifestyles how alike we truly are.

Far away from Hollywood both thematically and geographically, this heartwarming tale of a young girl's love of a dog she has found, is an outstanding film. Many close-ups of modern nomadic family life in Mongolia, the struggles to keep live stock alive and healthy, the natural play and interaction of children in a rural setting with few modern accoutrements, but most of all the endless sky and landscape make this well worth viewing.

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While not as original as The Story of the Weeping Camel, YELLOW DOG is still a visually beautiful film set in Western Mongolia (not in the Gobi of WEEPING CAMEL). Once again, it's a fascinating peek at a real-life Mongolian couple living in a yurt with their 3 children, including a daughter home from school who finds a stray dog. And, it's the documentarian glimpse at the family's life that entrances me.

The sense of artificial drama is stronger here than in WEEPING CAMEL. In fact, the found dog and little girl rings of Disney. And that feeling becomes even stronger when she is drawn into dire situations by her fondness for him. (At least the girl, Nansal Batchuluun, is a thousand times more appealing than the insufferable Kevin Corcoran.) Even more telling, the ending could only be a setup.

It helps to view this as a drama with non-actors. And while that drama might feel manufactured, the visual and cultural content make it worthwhile.

Read Best Reviews of Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005) Here

There is so much to love in this film! First, the landscape! Secondly, the details of the culture. The people wear brightly colored silk robes with contrasting sashes and flowers and ribbons in their hair while doing their ordinary tasks like collecting dung. What a nice way to live! When they move on to another location, they perform a ritual thanking the area for allowing them to spend the season there! Mostly the beauty of the family is a treat to watch. After decades of movies about sick, dysfunctional families, what a treat to see a family that lives so harmoniously. Their love is not sentimental but expresses itself in the most natural, practical ways. Maybe it's the fresh air, uncomplicated lifestyle or the fresh yak milk, but these people are even physically splendid. It is a real family, too! I usually cringe at "cute" child actors, especially, the recent batch of "so-homely-they're-adorable" kids we've been subject to. (argh) These are the real thing... beautiful, natural, children, with some of the rosiest cheeks you'll ever see! Just watching them wriggle in bed is a treat! There's not a tense bone in these kids.

The plot is simple---just enough story to give us some reason for enjoying the delightful scenes of everyday life in this remarkable culture. The shots are gorgeous---I loved watching the dismantling of the yurt. The overhead view of the structure of the roof reminded me of the best of "modern art." I disagree with the reviewer who complained that this was Disneyesque. On the contrary, it is the freedom from Hollywood conventions that makes this film worth seeing.

When I saw this, the audience seemed really into it...lots of spontaneous laughing and comments and people applauded at the end. It's not a film for people who want murder and mayhem, car crashes and insanity, but if you want to see something beautiful and heartfelt, this is it!

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To me, what's so facinating about this moive is that it keeps drawing you in even when it sustains with the minimal of plot and drama. It is hard to comprehend how the movie can be so compelling while being so straight forward. I like the scene when the husband returned home from a long journey to the city to sell off their sheep skin. With part of that money, he bought his wife a plastic laddle of bright green color and his wife received it as if it was a diamond ring. Beyond this movie, it makes me wonder what influences modern day city life have on these last vestiges of nomads. The parents already sent the older daughter to school in the city and more and more conveniences are introduced to their daily life. For how many more generations will their nomadic way of life continue? Will these characters reincarnate as city dwellers?

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