Cinema - The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Mongolia - what a weird place. Once the centre of the biggest empire in world history, and more recently annexed to the Soviet Union, it has been a democratic country since 1992. In this time it has gone through a period of rapid modernisation that is threatening the traditional culture of the nomadic tribes which still make up 30% of its population. This is one of the themes of the slow-moving but beautifully filmed docudrama Cave of the Yellow Dog, by Mongolian director Byambasuren Davaa, who also brought us the popular Oscar-nominated Story of the Weeping Camel, in 2003.

The tale is simple. A 6-year-old child, Nansal, leaves the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, to spend her summer holiday with her nomadic family on the steppes. She finds a dog in a cave, and wants to keep it. Her father fears that the dog has been reared amongst wolves and will attract more predators to his flock, so he refuses permission for the dog to follow them on their trail as they up yurt and move to pastures new. That simple conflict is the vehicle for a story whose real aim is to give us a good look at the traditional cheese-making, dung collecting, wood-chopping way of life of the nomads, and to let us know that this way of life is under threat as the country embraces modernisation. The actors are real nomads, and much of the footage is a detailed, almost sociological look at their day-to-day existence. The best scene is in the middle when an old woman teaches a valuable lesson about reincarnation to the little girl with a toothpick and a handful of rice. DL

Sheep’s Worst Enemy: Lassie, Mongolian style,
in The Cave of the Yellow Dog

All Saints, Friars Walk, Lewes
When? Friday 8pm; Sunday 5pm
How Much? £5