A dead body is found in the Mongolian steppes in this sublimely-shot if at times bizarre arthouse tale about carnal desires and the cycle of life.
Dir. Wang Quan’an
2019 | Mongolia/China | Drama | 100 mins | 2.35:1 | Mongolian
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes
Cast: Aorigeletu, Gangtemuer Arild, Dulamjav Enkhtaivan, Norovsambuu
Plot: A herdswoman helps a young policeman guard a dead body on the Mongolian prairie.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
International Sales: Arclight Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Desire, Myth
Narrative Style: Straightforward – Elliptical
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: Screener – Singapore Chinese Film Festival
Screening at the Singapore Chinese Film Festival 2020 – for more details: https://scff.sg/
This would make a great contrasting double-bill with Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s A Dark, Dark Man (2019).
Both films generously feature gorgeous wide shots of the beautiful steppes (one in Mongolia, the other in Kazakhstan) and employ the discovery of a dead body as a plot trigger, but they could not be any more different.
While Yerzhanov’s work can be likened to a stylish neo-noir, Wang Quan’an’s Ondog is best described as sublime.
Wang, who won the Golden Berlin Bear for Tuya’s Marriage (2006), deals with themes of death, birth and the cycle of life, both visually and in writing.
We see a calf being born, a lamb being slaughtered, humans musing about the passing of time, some talking about dinosaur eggs (‘ondog’ is Mongolian for ‘egg’). Sex is also at the foreground in two sequences, one of which is bizarre in its execution.
As a Mongolian herdswoman who’s nifty with a rifle is asked to protect a young unarmed policeman from marauding wolves as he guards a dead body in the middle of the vast land through the cold night, they strike up a brief primal connection.
Wang doesn’t really focus on any of the two characters, though he does privilege the herdswoman slightly more, in a loosely-flowing narrative with seemingly no highs or lows.
Ondog is as arthouse as you get, an existential take on the elusive feeling of trying to connect with another human being, let alone experiencing love, which in these parts, seems to be as rare as a dino-egg.