‘The Cave of the Yellow Dog’ is an escape to a more peaceful world

Directed by Byambasuren Davaa, The Cave of the Yellow Dog is about a young girl who travels across Mongolia with her herding family. When she finds a dog and wants to keep it, it places her at odds with her father’s safety concerns. The Cave of the Yellow Dog is a tender, sweet and  cinematographically striking film as well as an intriguing meditation on Buddhist ideas of life and death. (JRL: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker

At the start of Cave of the Yellow Dog, a young girl and her father lay their dog to rest, a glimpse into the future of the events that take place in the film. The father explains that he’s tucking the dog’s tail under his head to return as a person with a ponytail in his next life. “Everyone dies,” he says, “but no one is ever truly dead.”

In the beautiful countryside of Mongolia, Nansal (Nansal Batchuluun) travels with her father (Batchuluun Urjindorj), Mother (Buyandulam Daramdadi), little sister Nansalmaa (Nansalmaa Batchuluun), and little brother Babbayar (Batbayar Batchuluun), living off of the land with their sheep and cows. 

One day, Nansal discovers a dog all alone in a cave. She is immediately attached to him, names him Zochor, and brings him home. However, her father, whose sheep have recently been attacked by wolves, believes Zochor might attract more wolves. Despite her father’s refusal, Nansal’s love for Zochor grows as they play and wander around together in the beautiful countryside. 

Zochor’s appearance sparks Nansal’s curiosity about the spiritual world and her family’s Buddhism. She explores concepts of past lives and rebirth with childlike curiosity, and through this, begins to unveil the true beauty of Zochor’s existence and of her own.  

The Cave of the Yellow Dog displays tremendous skill on the part of the entire creative team, especially the cinematographer, Daniel Schoenauer. The rolling green hills and blue skies of Mongolia are stunningly idyllic. On top of that, every single shot is beautifully composed—each is a perfect snapshot one could stare at for hours. Slow and long shots of the family’s quiet existence in the country make the film feel genuinely peaceful. 

Even more lovely than the background is the family at the center of the story. The kids, Nansal, Nansalmaa, and Babbayar, are painfully cute. The entire film is interspersed with the most charming and funny footage of them playing around. Nansal, the oldest, gives an impressive performance with all of an adult’s depth and range. I was struck by the family’s chemistry but later found out that it’s because they are an actual family. As it turns out, this was a brilliant casting choice because director Byambasuren Davaa was able to capture her subjects with total authenticity. What results is a film with the honesty of a documentary, combined with the intriguing storyline and symbolism one finds in a feature. Indeed, it’s the best of both worlds. 

There’s nothing not to love about this film. The endless charms of the family and the dog— along with the utter beauty of the landscape—make Cave of the Yellow Dog like an escape to a better world, a world full of peace and love. And frankly, I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use that right about now.

© Julia Lasker (9/17/2020) – FF2 Media

Photos: Credit to Daniel Schoenauer.

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