Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)

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I watched the film Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005) by Byambasuren Davaa. It is part documentary, part fiction. It looks like a fiction film because the shots are beautifully framed and appear planned, rather than taken opportunistically. The camera does not seem shaky as in a lot of documentary films that follow people in realtime. The soundscape is composed of diegetic environmental sounds and non-diegetic music. The environmental sounds increase the visual filmic space and foretell what is about to enter the screen; for example, a dog barks off screen and then the dog walks into shot.

There was a scene where a wolf kills two sheep and the screen is black for the duration but we hear the sounds of wolves growling, sheep bleating and running and the mother saying her ladle is broken now; I like the idea of the sound creating the narrative. The ladle becomes a symbol that is used throughout the film: when the father goes to town to sell the sheepskins, the mother asks him to buy her a new ladle. He brings her a green, plastic one. She notices how light it is, compared with the previous, metal ladle. She uses it in the same way she used the metal ladle and it melts. She thinks it was unlucky. Later, the father is shown making a metal ladle and the eldest daughter uses the ruined plastic one to feed the dog. The unfolding story of the ladle highlights the isolation of living in the countryside and the resulting lack of knowledge of materials used in everyday life in towns.

[Edit: 21 Nov 2013: Both these aesthetic choices – the undramatic nature of the narrative, which is still captivating and the use of sound to create narrative over a black screen – show up in my finished film: the undramatic communication breakdown and the soundscape creating a sense of space that isn’t shown on the screen.]

The narrative is quite subtle and the slow pace of the film plays down drama when it does occur; for example, when the flock of sheep returns home from the hills without the eldest daughter, who was herding them, the mother leaves the middle child in charge of the smallest child while she ventures to look for the eldest daughter. Throughout the scene the mother is calm.

It was fascinating to see a way of life on screen that contrasts to my own. The family live in a yurt and their animals graze the surrounding, dramatic landscape of hills and valleys. Watching the family take the yurt apart in order to travel to the next place was inspiring: I would like to make a paper yurt that can come apart and be put back together again.

In Cave of the Yellow Dog the home is an impermanent structure that can be easily taken apart and erected again. In my film, Hugo and Cate are trying to erect a tent, a temporary structure, inside the derelict building. There is no roof to the main part of the building and the raging wind is a huge obstacle to them putting up the tent. Eventually, they give up and shelter in a tiny room, where they reflect on their experience.

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