Öndög (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

February 9th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Wang Quan’an | Cast: Dulamjav Enkhtaivan, Aorigeletu, Norovsambuu Batmunkh, Gangtemuer Arild | Mongolia 2019, 100′

Wang Quan’an has been developing his astonishing cinematic style since his Golden Bear success with Tuya’s Marriage in 2007. This slow-burning detective eco-thriller also plays out as a love story for the wide open spaces of Mongolia; for the animals that roam there and the people caught between their traditional rural existence and the birth of the digital age and growing industrialisation.

Öndög is a visual masterpiece that glows and mesmerises. Each frame a jewel box of resplendent colours and wild scenery in a tale touched with the same cheeky humour as his previous films, and enriched with inventive compositions: a dromedary appears like a burning alien set against a campfire in the obsidian darkness, a peasant woman on horseback shares her landscape with the far distant funnels of a factory, puffing smoke into the gloaming. The narrative, too, is compelling but the characters never take themselves, or their existence, too seriously, as we learn through their spare but insightful views on live in this distant outpost.

A naked woman is found dead in the middle of nowhere, in the Mongolian steppe. Overnight, a young and inexperienced policeman has to secure the crime scene. Since he is not familiar with the dangers on site, a local herder is sent to guard him and the body. This determined woman is known locally as a ‘dinosaur’ for her single status approaching her mid thirties. But she’s no fool and can handle a rifle – and scare away wolves from harming her herd: “Hunting is instinctive” we are told in the opening scene where the police car creeps slowly through a curtain of corn, the only traffic a herd of wild horses. The woman herder lights a fire and offers alcohol to the young policeman to keep him warm, and they grow closer. This is a vast, exotic and remote place but the habits and motivations are no different from our Western ones. Especially for the women. Öndög is a unique tale full of comic and awesome scenes  and surprising twists and turns; it also handles existential themes in an offhand but ravishing way. MT


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