In the Cave of the Yellow Dog By Madhu Eravankara

in 15th Brisbane International Film Festival

by Madhu Eravankara

Time stands still among hills. But the life flows eternally with its ebbs and tides. It is especially true in the stunning green plains of a Mongolian mountain valley. Shot in exquisite frames by the Mongolian filmmaker Byambasuren Davaa, Die Hoehle des Gelben Hundes (The Cave of the Yellow Dog) depicts the slow paced life of a Mongolian nomadic family with utmost brevity and cinematic excellence.

The Batchuluun family depends heavily on nature for their day to day life. The winds, rains and changing seasons make their life happy and at time melancholic. But they are contented with what they have out of their hard work. They never miss a chance to enjoy the little happiness they could get hold of. Having got a shepherd dog from a cave, the eldest daughter Nansa develops an intimate relationship with it, in spite of the compelling resistance from her father. But one would consider the film dealing with the realities of life in terms of man’s interaction with nature rather than the superficial story of the strong love of a girl and a dog.

The Cave of the Yellow dog has the lovely charm of a fairy tale. It is true, there happens to be a fairy tale within the film told by an old woman in the far mountains on a rainy day. She tells the story of the cave of the yellow dog to little Nansaa, which, of course, might have inspired the filmmaker to accept the metaphor as the beautiful title of the film.

The herdsman Batchuluun is too worried about the wild wolves who kill his sheep in the dark. His apprehension about the newly acquired dog by Nansaa is only related with this obsession. Even though the animals like sheep, goats and yaks make an integral part of his life, his despise to the dog may be attributed to the security of his practical life, thus upholding the Darwin ‘s theory of the “survival of the fittest”.

As every man in a village the Batchuluun also aspires for a modern life. His motor cycle acts as the connecting link to the external world. He brings in modernity to his house in the form of battery operated torch, the plastic ladle and dancing toy. The filmmaker effectively inserts a shot of the same ladle being spoiled in the boiling oil in the kitchen. The slow paced traditional life is contrasted visually with the futility of the fastness of modernity. The family eagerly look forward to a bright future as is very evident from the gesture of sending Nansaa to a distant school. Once they have decided to move for better prospects, they dismantle their make-shift house, which steals the entire end sequence with emotional mix up. It is to be stressed that Nansaa’s higher education is the major concern of their plan of migration.

The Cave of the Yellow Dog dwells on the ever recurring themes vis-à-vis man vs nature and tradition vs modernity. The mountain plains, the green slopes, the traditional house, the blue skies, the dark clouds and the domestic animals become the main characters of the film. In fact the human characters interact with these powerful motifs of nature making their life flow like a brook in a spring.

Byambasuren Davaa’s debut film The story of the Weeping Camel (2003) was hailed by the international audience. In the new film she is closely following the Batchuluun family with real characters on the screen. So the film may be rightly called a docudrama rather than true fiction. At times there is a thrust on the plot of the intimacy of the girl Nansaa with the dog. Naturally it provides gentleness and beauty to the film, but towards the end it turns to be too melodramatic, a quality quite unwelcome to a well-made film like this.

The filmmaker has adopted a straight narrative in perfect tune with the plot. She may be criticised for her extraordinary simplicity in narrative. Simplicity is not at all a crime, if your film demands it. It requires extreme caution not to be pretentious. She has no pretensions whatsoever in her approach in stark contrast with the most of the new generation filmmakers.

Amidst the so called unnecessarily slow moving experimental (?) films, which normally have very little to convey, The Cave of the Yellow Dog is certainly a great relief. It gives you the freshness of life, warmth of the family bonds and humaneness of nature. For me the concept of good cinema extends to the effective use of the medium and the artistic honesty expressed in drawing life as such. Undoubtedly The Cave of the Yellow Dog claims both.