leave a comment --Ken Fox
Byambasuren Davaa, codirector of the 2005 Oscar-nominated THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL, returns with another winsome tale with surprisingly wide appeal. Davaa's second fable of animals and the people who love them mixes aspects of ethnographic filmmaking with heart-grabbing story lines that wouldn't be too far out of place in a 1950s live-action Disney feature. Think of this as OLD YELLER in Outer Mongolia. Young Nansal Batchuluun, her parents, her little sister and her baby brother pretty much play themselves a family of Mongolian sheep herders who, as the seasons change, pack up their portable hut, called yurt, and all their belongings and move their flock along to different locales. Nansaa spends a good part of the year attending a school in the city, but it's while she's back at home collecting the sheep dung her mother (Buyandulam D. Batchuluun) needs for her kitchen fire that Nansaa discovers a scruffy white-and-brown dog cowering in a cave. Naming the dog "Zochor" (Mongolian for what else? "Spot"), Nansaa takes him back to her family's yurt. Nansaa's mother thinks the dog is cute enough and that perhaps fate brought him to the family, but Nansaa's father (Urjindorj Batchuluun ) wants nothing to do with a stray canine. Lately his flock has been harassed by wolves, and when he returns home from his trip to the city, where he was hoping to sell sheepskins, he catches sight of this newest addition to his family and orders Nansaa to return the dog to its cave. Many dogs are now being left behind as their owners abandon nomadic life, and Nansaa's father worries that even if Zochor isn't part wolf (and only wolves live in caves), his scent might attract other wolves to the flock. Exhibiting a surprising independence of mind, Nansaa flatly refuses, and when her father threatens to get rid of the dog himself, she tries to hide the dog among the sheep. Nansaa and Zochor grow inseparable, but she knows that once the family pulls up stakes and moves on, Zochor won't be coming with them. Aside from the obvious emotional appeal of a story about a girl and her adorable dog, what makes the film interesting is the insight Davaa offers into the lives of contemporary Mongolian nomads. They don't live entirely out of time Father rides a motorcycle to and from town, and Mother welcomes such innovations as a plastic ladle and it's clear that, even in their remote part of the world, modernization has begun to encroach upon their lives. But what remains steadfast in their hearts is what one takes away from this beautiful film: their appreciation for life and a deep respect for the animals with whom they share the earth, all of which is closely tied to ancient ideas about reincarnation and the rare luck that we, against all odds, should have been briefly reborn as human beings.