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STUDIO: Tartan Video
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
o Available Subtitles: English, Spanish
o Available Audio Tracks: (Dolby Digital 5.1), (DTS 5.1), English (Unknown Format)
o Interview with the director
National Geographic meets narrative storytelling in a steel cage (also known as Mongolia).
The Batchuluun family: children Babbayar, Nansal, and Nansalmaa , along with mother Buyandulam Daramdadi and father Batchuluun Urjindorj, not to forget Zocher the dog.
"Honey, what did I say about Brett Ratner DVD’s in the house?"
A pretty simple story, actually: Girl finds dog, girl brings dog home, dad disapproves of dog, dog needs to prove worth before it’s too late. Granted, it’s much more complicated than that (reincarnation and the particular belief that dogs reincarnate into humans in their next life play a big part in the evolution of the narrative) and fleshes out it’s protagonist and her family in a very expansive/informative way, but the bare necessities can be boiled down to those four pivotal turns in the film’s narrative.
Byambasuren Davaa’s first feature film, The Story of the Weeping Camel, snuck up on me. It was a film that worked both as a story and as a travelogue and brief window into the lifestyle of a Mongolian family (worked so well as such, in fact, that it was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar), a different style of story-telling that I as a viewer was not accustomed to. With The Cave of the Yellow Dog, she continues to evolve her method of storytelling mixed with the documentarian aesthetic with unananimously positive results.
Upcoming Tartan release Li’l Cliffhanger.
Much like in Weeping Camel, Davaa manages to get performances out of the family chosen for the film that feel completely naturalistic and unforced. In particular, the children seem completely at ease in front of the lens and their actions are often spontaneous and mostly adorable. While I’m sure working with the numerous animals and children on this film couldn’t have been easy (at least if you ascribe to the W.C. Fields school of though), the little moments captured for the film are nothing short of lovely.
Mongolian law requires all motorcyclists to wear a derby, for "protective jauntiness".
Her directing style is seemingly evolving as she continues to work, too. In Weeping Camel, the camerawork managed to capture beautiful images but didn’t contain much in the way of movement or much thought in the way of camera position/shot selection. Here, she seems much more at home behind the camera as she manages to tease the narrative out of the meandering nature of the documentation of their everday lives, managing to make a pretty solid connection between the beautiful images of nature on the screen and the thematic message of respecting nature and the sanctity of life in all forms. Of special note here are some atmospheric scenes in which the protagonist discovers and then tries to re-find the dog Zocher which clearly show some directorial chops developing. And the last shot is a visual flourish that manages to stay true both to the documentary filmmaker’s goal of striving for realism while at the same being a purely cinematic moment in and of itself.
Overall, Davaa is really turning into a director to keep your eye on as she continues to churn out movies that are emotionally resonant, beautiful, and interesting for casting their gaze on cultures otherwise a mystery to American audiences (or at least, this particular American audience). Cave of the Yellow Dog is proof that she is developing a firmer grasp on narrative storytelling and visually telling a story while staying true to the documentarian muse that seems to guide her filmmaking. Highly recommended.
The kids were less than thrilled when mommy brought home Fleshface O’Grady for dinner.
The cover art is somewhat indicative of the beauty of the movie while showcasing the relationship at its center, but there were many fantastic images throughout the running time that would’ve been more effective in conveying both than this one. The picture quality is sterling, capturing the beautiful vistas with startling clarity. The Dolby 5.1 was equally up to the task, and for those interested there’s also a DTS track. However, when trying to utilize the English dubbing (to see if it would make a lovely film experience in its original language a horrifying journey into the depths of overdubbing) it didn’t work on my particular DVD. So subtitle-hatin’ buyers beware. In terms of extras there’s the theatrical trailer (notable for changing the use of the word ‘Buddha’ in the film to ‘God’, making the film theoretically more palatable to American audiences, I guess) and a short interview with the director that many may find enlightening. In my case, it helped show me that Byambasuren is a woman (mind: blown.) and also helps one to understand her process; mainly, shooting shitloads of film and trying to capture spontaneity in the lives of the family while navigating the rough waters of dealing with children on film. It’s a nice little addition to what was already a thoroughly engaging movie.
7.3 out of 10