A German/Mongolian co-production, The Cave of the Yellow Dog is, like its predecessor The Story of the Weeping Camel, a fairly cynical moneymaking exercise which should probably offend me a little more than it does. Using a whisper thin version of the classic rebellious-kid-adopts-animal storyline as a way to indulge the audience in the everyday lives of nomadic Mongolian sheep herders, the movie is aimed with merciless precision at the middlebrow arthouse audience, and should hit its target squarely.
But I can’t really say anything against this movie without feeling like I’m throwing rocks at puppies. It’s pretty much completely irresistable. So I’m going to go against my inclinations and come out in defence of what is, after all, pretty much pap.
First and foremost, the movie is as effective as any documentary could ever be in presenting the lives of people in a remote culture, one that very few of us are even slightly familiar with, in minute and fascinating detail. The family around which the story revolves (a real-life family of a mother, father and four young children) follow the fair weather and green grazing land by the season, assembling and dismantling their house in scenes of fascinating precision.
Secondly, it’s so very quiet and stylistically classy. This is not one of those documentary style movies which falls for the Dogme95 fallacy that ugly handheld camera-waving somehow equals realism. The film was shot on 16mm but you’d never know, it was certainly made by people who knew what they were doing: even blown up on the huge Regent Theatre screen in Melbourne it looked a million bucks (which is probably a lot more than it cost to make).
The story progresses with such predictability it’s either foolish or brave, but the movie’s lax pace and the serene beauty of the temperate, endlessly hilly grasslands in which it takes place make it enormously pleasurable. Credit must also go to the performers, non-professional actors (of course) who do little more than go about their every day lives while half-following a largely improvised script. And man, those kids are adorable.