Monday, 20 November 2006

The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 23rd September 2006.

The Cave of the Yellow DogThe Cave of the Yellow Dog, winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes last year, has 'art house' written all over it. The few sentences on the jacket describing the story turn out to not be a summary, but the entire plot. If you like strong narrative, brilliant acting, or MTV-paced editing then this isn't a film for you.

The film is essentially a documentary about family, in this case a Mongolian nomad family very much at one with nature. The 'story', if there is one, is that of a young girl finding a cute dog which she takes under her wing, to the strong objections of her father, who is worried that the dog has lived with wolves and will encourage attacks on his herd of sheep. When the girl loses the dog while her father is away she encounters an old nomad woman who tells her the legend of the cave of the yellow dog, based very much on the belief that dogs are always reborn as humans.

Although the plot is paper-thin it's not really important here, because this is really a documentary about the nomadic life style that is about to disappear in Mongolia. The cinematography is stunning and the 'performances' from the children are totally natural - which is hardly surprising since this is a real family living their normal life that we're seeing on screen. The closest film I can compare it to, in terms of conveying nature in such a realistic way, albeit one really needing a big screen, is Terrence Malick's The New World.

Director Byambasuren Davaa has a strong eye for what makes a breath-taking shot. Her framing is perfect shot-after-shot, and at times one feels one is watching the movie equivalent of a coffee table book of photography, albeit one occasionally interrupted by the realities of family life with young children. On another night I might have enjoyed it less, but coming at the end of a stressful week at work, with a daily commute that has extended into Saturday and now into Sunday too, I found it a delightful way to relax and escape the trials and tribulations of the modern world. Sadly this gentler, slower way of life is being eroded by the global economy and we're lucky to have a beautiful film that captures what may, on the surface, appear a difficult way of life, but one which ultimately smacks of a much higher overall quality than we have in modern society, before it finally disappears.

Cave of the Yellow Dog screencap

The DVD release is very typical of most of those released by Tartan. The picture quality is generally excellent, there's a chapter index leaflet, and for this release a DTS sound track, as well as the usual Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 options.

But there's little in the way of extra's, other than a short (12 minute) 'UK exclusive' interview with the director. For 'art house' movies like this I don't think we can expect more and this will be more of a rental than a purchase for the majority interested in seeing it. That being said, if you're feeling the stress of City life and want to be transported somewhere else for 90 minutes, then it's hard to think of a better release for doing that.

Cave of the Yellow Dog screencap

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