Cave of the Yellow Dog

foreign films

Cave of the Yellow Dog
Made in: Mongolia (location)
Produced in: Germany
Language: Mongolian
Directed by: Byambasuren Davaa
Cast: Nansal Batchuluun, Buyandalam Daramdadi, Urjindorj Batchuluun, Nansalmaa Batchuluun, Babbayar Batchuluun, Zochor (the family dog)
Year: 2005

Synopsis: Nansal (Nansal Bathuluun) is a little girl living with her nomadic family in the open Mongolian countryside. For much of the year she attends a boarding school, but after the school year ends, she returns to live with her family.

While going about daily chores one day, she befriends a little dog. Naming him Zochor (which means Spot), she brings him home and wants to keep him. However, her parents disapprove and her father (Urjindori Batchuluun) orders her to let the animal go.

Fearing that the dog might be part wolf, Nansal's dad warns her that other wolves may follow the dog, and wreak havoc on the herd of livestock animals that they depend on. But by fate, Zochor comes across an opportunity to prove his worth to his adopted family.

Remarks: Made with the help of a German Production Company, Cave of the Yellow Dog is an educational, close-up look at nomadic life in Mongolia. Nansal and her family are real nomads, not professional actors. Zochor is the real-life family dog as well, and not an animal star hired by a film studio.

On the surface, the story revolves around Nansal and her new friend. But through that story, director Byambasuren Davaa gives us an engaging, authentic look at why nomadic life cannot be sustained against the inevitability of modernization. We see that many nomads are abandoning traditional life in favor of opportunities in the city, and there is an undertone of sadness throughout the film as the family realizes that their way of life is slowly disappearing.

At one point, Nansal hears the fable of the Cave of the Yellow Dog from a wise-woman. The fable serves as a clever metaphor for the sadness that comes with change, as well as the hope and blessings that often result.

Neither preachy nor melodramatic, Cave of the Yellow Dog is essentially a documentary. The cinematography is beautiful, and the family, despite being non-actors, is very interesting to observe. Nansal and her siblings have a natural charm, and never ham things up just because they're on camera.

This movie will make you respect those who deal with a hard life in the wilderness. It doesn't make you feel guilty, but humbles you enough to make you appreciate the comforts of western civilization that we often take for granted.

Who would like this movie: Cave of the Yellow Dog isn't for everyone. Although the basic storyline can pretty much be understood by viewers from any country, I'd recommend this movie for you if you're really into documentaries, or regularly watch foreign films.

You'll also like this film if you enjoy learning about life in other cultures, and if you're a dog-lover.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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