The Cave Of The Yellow Dog Review
Featuring a young six-year old who wants to keep a little stray dog she has discovered in a cave against her father’s wishes, The Cave Of The Yellow Dog has the same difficulty in overcoming the cuteness of its premise that was at the heart of the director’s previous film The Story Of The Weeping Camel. But if you can put aside any misgivings about unchallenging, light-weight, easy-viewing, alternative lifestyle promoting, world cinema-lite that the quotes of “Adorable”, “Utterly irresistible” and “An endless pleasure” on the cover suggest, there’s a persuasive undercurrent behind the film’s surface cuteness and charm.
As in the Byambasuren Davaa’s previous film, the film follows the daily rituals and life of a nomadic family on the vast, remote and largely unpopulated Mongolian plains. The family keep livestock, principally goats and sheep, making cheese and trading their produce in the town. The eldest daughter, six-year old Nansal, finds a stray dog in a cave and wants to keep it, having recently buried their previous dog. She calls the dog Zochor (meaning Spot). Many dogs have been left behind as families increasingly move to the city, and the dogs breed and run around with the wolves. As the family have recently been beset by increasing attacks from wolves, preying on their sheep, the father is reluctant to allow Nansal to keep a stray dog that may lead more wolves to their door.
Nansal however keeps Zochor hidden and takes him with her when she takes the livestock out grazing on the tundra while her father goes to town to sell the sheepskins of the wolves’ latest kills. Looking for the dog who has run away, Nansal gets lost, but meets an old lady who tells her the story of the Cave of the Yellow Dog.
With three young nomadic Mongolian children all below the age of six, frolicking and playing around with a playful little animal against the backdrop of incredibly beautiful natural and unspoiled landscapes, The Cave Of The Yellow Dog is practically a byword for cuteness. There are dangers in the wild – wolves and vultures in vast landscapes where sudden storms can arise, but they only occur as part of the storyline to put little children in temporary peril for the narrative needs of the storyline. Through the following of the daily lives of a real nomadic family however, it is necessarily a simple storyline, showing them setting up their tent and going about their daily life and rituals and in doing so it manages to largely avoid contrivance.
It’s in this almost documentary fashion that the film follows the family however that the film achieves its purpose. From the story of the Cave of the Yellow Dog and the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, Nansal learns a lesson about the value of life and the cycle of life, constantly on the move. It’s something that she and her family clearly know all about, choosing to live in a pure and natural way in accordance with nature and even its dangers. Certainly the film is very reverential towards an alternative lifestyle that perhaps doesn’t give any real indication of the true hardships that the family must endure when there isn’t a film crew around, but the manner in which it is filmed is persuasive nonetheless. Capturing little scenes of daily life of a real family, not actors, their preparation and eating of food, the children at play, seemingly completely unaware of the cameras around them, The Cave Of The Yellow Dog has an unpretentious naturalism that is... well I have to admit, “adorable”, “utterly irresistible” and “an endless pleasure”.
The Cave Of The Yellow Dog is released in the UK by Tartan. The DVD is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
Transferred at a ratio of 1.78:1, the image does full justice to the film’s beautiful cinematography. There are no marks on the print at all, detail and clarity are good and the image is resolutely stable without even a flicker of compression artefacts and no edge enhancement. Colours are certainly rich and vivid, particularly on interior shots, but there is a paler or lightened quality to exteriors. Along with a low level of grain in the image, this may be down to the use of 16mm film stock. The image really does look remarkably good here.
One would suspect that the typical Tartan choice of soundtracks is somewhat excessive for a film like this – Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes are all included – but the film actually does make extensive use of the wider surrounds in the 5.1 mixes, with wolves often howling disconcertingly in the night behind your shoulder. All the mixes have strong and clear dialogue and excellent mixing of the music score, creating a warm enveloping environment for the film to work within.
English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional.
There is only one extra feature included, but it’s quite a useful and interesting one - an Interview with the Director Byambasuren Davaa (12:44), where she talks about the difficulty of finding the right family to cast in the film, the difficulties of working in the region and working with children, as well as her reasons for making the film and what it represents to her. The interview is interspersed with brief behind-the-scenes shots and outtakes.
There’s a certain amount of sweetness and cuteness in The Cave Of The Yellow Dog - as there is inevitably going to be on a story centred around a young girl and the little stray dog she finds - but the film is shot with such unpretentious naturalism, making such fine use of the natural beauty of Western Mongolia and the simplicity of nomadic life there, that it is hard not to get caught up in its charm. Tartan’s release of the film on DVD is exceptionally good - it may be light on extra features, but everything you need to enjoy and appreciate the film is here, not least of which is the impressive transfer.