Film Review: The Cave of the Yellow Dog

by Celeste Heiter, Oct 27, 2007 | Destinations: Mongolia
The Cave of the Yellow Dog

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Art imitates life in this docu-drama featuring the daily activities within the traditional lifestyle of a nomadic Mongolian family. The Batchuluun family yurt is set up on vast expanse of grassy pasture where their abundant herd of livestock graze, and the family spends its days processing dairy, meat, and wool the animals produce. All seems idylic until a pack of wolves begins stalking the herd at night, and the family wakes one morning to find three of their sheep have been killed. Urjindorj, the father, skins the sheep and sets off to town on his motorcycle to sell the hides, leaving mother Buyandulam, baby Batbayar, daughter Nansalmaa, and elder daughter Nansal behind to fend for themselves in his absence.

While her father is away, mother Buyandulam sends Nansal out to gather a basketful of dried dung for the family to use as fuel for the hearth. In the course of her mission, Nansal discovers a feral puppy in a cave and the two instantly take to each other. While father is away, Nansal and the puppy, which she named Zochor (Spot), are inseparable, but upon his return, father expresses concerns that the dog has mingled with the wolves and will lead the pack to their herd. Yet despite his warnings and forbidding, Nansal continues to keep company with the puppy. The deciding moment comes when the family packs up the yurt to relocate for the winter, and it appears as though man's best friend may be left behind.

The title of the film refers to an old Mongolian legend of a rich family with beautiful daughter who becomes ill. The village wise man advised the father to send the family dog away. Not wanting to kill the dog, the father put it in a cave and brought it food and water each day. But one day, the dog vanished and the daughter got wel. As it turns out, she had been lovesick because the family dog had been interfering with her rendevous with her beloved. The two marry, and the legend concludes with the dog being reincarnated as their child.

What sets this film apart is its basis in reality. German director Byambasuren Davaa, whose family originated in Mongolia, traveled to her homeland, where she interviewed several Mongolian families before choosing the Batchuluun family to star in her film. From there, she and her crew observed from the fringes of their homestead and documented the family's daily activities, allowing the story to write itself as the events of the summer unfolded. Each day presented its challenges, from changes in the weather, to the children's reticence to perform on camera. The storm, the visitors, and even the little spotted dog were all serendipitous, yet Byambasuren Davaa masterfully crafted them into this purposeful and compelling story. An endearing tale of one family's daily travails, and a poignant portrait of a vanishing way of life.

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Look for The Cave of the Yellow Dog on Amazon

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