Screening at the Varsity this week is a quiet gem, suitable for all ages. "The Cave of the Yellow Dog," from Mongolian filmmaker Byambasuren Davaa (who co-directed the lovely documentary "The Story of the Weeping Camel"), is a simple girl-and-dog story, set in remote Northwest Mongolia. Young Nansaa (the perpetually smiling Nansal Batchuluun), out collecting dung for firewood, finds a small, friendly dog in a cave. She brings it home, but her father (Urjindorj Batchuluun) thinks the dog will attack his sheep and doesn't want her to keep it.
Anyone who's seen a Hollywood dog story knows where this will go: The dog will prove its worth, and Nansaa will have found a true friend. And that, indeed, is where this film goes, but in a manner so gentle and charming, it's irresistible.
Davaa recruited a real-life Mongolian nomad family of five, the Batchuluuns, to play themselves, and much of the film's appeal is simply watching their lives: a toddler playing with a china Buddha ("Don't play with God!" admonishes a sister); the mother making goat cheese; the father, in his traditional garb, riding his motorcycle. Late in the film, they dismantle their yurt (tent) to move on; it's a fascinating demonstration of an entirely transient life, loaded efficiently onto wooden-wheeled carts.
Davaa indicates the changing nature of Mongolian life: Men observe that many families are selling their livestock and moving to cities; a truck driving past reminds citizens to vote. But the movie keeps its focus on the ruddy-cheeked children, who lie in the grass and happily find animal shapes in the clouds. Nansaa, in her ribboned braids and red shoes, will soon be going back to school in the city. But for now, she's just a girl with a new friend, watching the world get bigger.
— Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times movie critic
"The Cave of the Yellow Dog," with Nansal Batchuluun, Urjindorj Batchuluun, Buyandulam D. Batchuluun. Written and directed by Byambasuren Davaa. 93 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. In Mongolian with English subtitles. Varsity, through Thursday.