Shar Nohoin Tam, or Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)
Directed by: Byambasuren Davaa
Starring: Urjindorjyn Batchuluun, Buyandulamyn Daramdadi, Batchuluuny Nansal, Batchuluuny Batbayar
This is the story of a young Mongol girl and her puppy, at least that’s what Nansal hopes after wandering up a hillside and finding a puppy in a small cave when she is supposed to be keeping an eye on her family’s goats and sheep. Back at the ger, her father has finished skinning two sheep which had been killed by wolves and is off to town to sell the fleeces. The puppy, named Zochor by Nansal, is to be gone by the time he returns. An unknown dog, even a puppy, found living on its own may have been associating with wolves, which makes it a possible threat to their livestock, and times are tough enough already.
“Cave of the Yellow Dog” is a wonderful slice of herder life, with the addition of a motorbike and a small wind turbine connected to a battery to provide a little electricity for things like a light bulb in the evening. The film stars a real-life herder family and is full of small, everyday touches of custom and tradition, such as making cheese, sewing a deel, and a group of men exchanging snuff bottles. At one point, Nansal is told the story in the title by an elderly herder woman whose ger she ends up at after getting caught in the rain. The drama of the movie is inherent in the life the family leads, depending as they do on their animals for their livelihood, and the fact that children are required to take on real responsibilities at a very young age. Director Byambasuren Davaa’s first film, “The Story of the Weeping Camel”, explored traditional herder life in the wide expanses of the Gobi. This, her second film, sets the story in the Hangai Mountains of central Mongolia, with its peaks, wandering streams, and lush grass.
I found it somewhat odd that in a place where more than once the point is made that there are wolves around, that the family doesn’t already have a bankhar (the traditional herder’s dog which is similar to a Tibetan mastiff) or two. Also that the puppy, probably chosen for personality and trainability, doesn’t look much, if at all, like the dogs one generally sees in Mongolia. But these are quibbles based on your reviewer having traveled extensively in the countryside. “Cave of the Yellow Dog”, along with its predecessor “The Story of the Weeping Camel”, are both films I always recommend to anyone who asks me (ten trips since 2005) “Why Mongolia?”
Susan Fox grew up and currently live on the north coast of California. She began her art career working for fifteen years as a sign painter, graphic designer and illustrator, she started to paint full-time in oil in 1997, specializing in animals and the natural world. Her work has been juried into national and regional exhibitions since 2003. Her paintings are available in Mongolia at Mazaalai Art Gallery.