If Franz Kafka, George Orwell, and a Mongolian shaman met in a bar, I think they’d write something like the movie “Khadag” on napkins during a night of binge drinking. They wouldn’t need to write much. It’s a very visual movie with little dialogue. Amazingly, it sort of works. Just put your logical thinking on hold and let your emotions take charge. It’s a beautifully filmed surrealist tale, which starts off fairly normally with a nomad family: a fatherless young man living with his mother and grandpa. He has periodic seizures, which his family attributes to shamanistic abilities, but is actually undiagnosed epilepsy. He experiences visions and premonitions during his seizures. So, the local shamaness wants to take him under her wing after bringing him out of a really bad seizure, where he gets a preview of the end of their nomadic existence. He’s so right on with that but, frankly, he’d just prefer to be left alone to tend the animals.
After that, we enter the Orwellian phase of the movie, where the government forces the relocation of all the nomads on the pretext of an unknown plague. The nomad families don’t seem to put up a fight and it seems like they have no choice. The army is in charge. They just sheepishly ask where they are going. “Somewhere there’s jobs,” is the vague and terse answer. End of discussion. The jobs in question turn out to be in a open-cast coal mine and new homes are a Soviet style apartment. Mum seems OK with it and Grandpa is unhappy but resigned to a life peeling potatoes, but Bagi starts to come unhinged. His fits and seizures, plus a large dose of frustration over losing his animals, take him over the edge. Occasionally, his visions prove beneficial to others when he rescues a coal train thief/musician/revolutionary, who also happens to be stunningly attractive. This is Zolzaya, and Bagi falls head over heels for her. She’s even stunningly attractive coated in coal dust, which is no small feat.
Unfortunately, Zolzaya leads Bagi astray, and they end up getting arrested by the police, who protect the evil coal/power company’s interests and they are sentenced to work in a hard labor crew. Bagi’s visions and illness intensify, leading him to be institutionalized with other herders suffering from mental illness related to relocation. He envisions a future where the evil coal/power company is defeated by a coalition of herders and revolutionary musicians and their followers, allowing the nomads to return to their traditional lifestyle. There’s a special appearance by “Altan Urag” a band that plays a rock Mongolian folk fusion style. It’s a nice treat in an otherwise fairly bleak film with a possible vision of a bright future.
Хадаг or Khadag (2006)
Directors: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
Starring: Batzul Khayankhyarvaa, Tsetsegee Byamba, Banzar Damchaa
Running time: 104 min
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Martin Foster was born in Liverpool, UK and educated in Manchester, UK and Los Angeles, USA. His first career was a computer programmer but he quickly found it unchallenging and moved into computer graphics. He has worked on 25 films, including 2 Harry Potters and 2 Chronicles of Narnia. His last major film was “John Carter of Mars”. However, he has also transitioned again into English teaching since 2008, at least until some great film work falls into his lap. He has written and published several books in the computer graphics and crime genres. He currently lives in Ulaanbaatar with his lovely girlfriend and a dog called Bambruush the Destroyer.