The film Desert Dream (Hyazgar, 2007), directed by Zhang Lu, was in the main competition section at the Osian’s-Cinefan Festival of Asian & Arab Cinema. This film impressed me for various reasons, principally its visuals, explicitly portraying the life in stark reality of Hungai, who lives in a desert. A vast landscape of desert totally isolated from the outside world harbors Hungai’s only hut where he lives with his wife and child. The only other companions are his cattle. This being a border area between Mongolia and China, quite frequently we see the movement of army tanks patrolling the area.
Hungai has a mission in life: he faithfully plants trees in the desert, procuring seedlings from a vendor who runs the only shop in that area, also supplying various other provisions. He is so obsessed with his work, even his family gets disillusioned with him. His wife leaves the place, taking her daughter to a faraway city to get treatment for her illness. Poor Hungai, now lonely, drowns himself in drinks. The sudden arrival of a Korean refugee woman, Choi Soonhee, with her son, in search of a shelter, enlivens the situation to a great extent, even though they find it difficult to communicate effectively because they do not speak the same language. A strange relationship develops among the three. Both the mother and son willingly help Hungai in planting trees and other routine chores. The boy, who has lost his father, comes closer and closer to Hungai and one night he shifts from his bed to sleep at Hungai’s side to find much needed security in his arms. Strangely, the son finds this village a place where he would like to stay, but his mother is totally against it. She wants to move out at the earliest opportunity. The visuals that capture the moods of these three characters are very well shot. The camera takes a long shot, a conversation is taking place, and it pans around slowly almost from one end to the other, capturing the vast landscape of desert, on the one side Choi Sonhee, and on the other Hungai and the boy standing. This particular shot reminds us of the Hungarian filmmaker Miklos Jancso who successfully adopted this style in his films. Justifiably the film is snail-paced, reminiscent of Bresson, quite powerful in content.
While the boy finds solace under Hungai, Choi flatly refuses his sexual advances, fearing that she may have to stay back in the desert in case she falls in love with him. While Hungai is away to visit his wife and daughter, she satisfies her sexual need with a young Mongolian soldier. When her son sees her making love, he rushes to bring the gun to drive the soldier away and to protect the family in Hungai’s absence. While the boy identifies himself with the surroundings, his mother makes her bid to flee with a Korean film crew but fails. Finally she takes the boy away and moves to a highway which points to her destination. The only one left behind is poor Hungai.
This is a movie that has its originality and a style that suits the content and documents the human emotions of a person living in a totally uninhabited desert.