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Film / Close to Eden

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Close to Eden (in Russian "Урга", Urga) is a 1991 film from the Soviet Union (right before it dissolved), directed by Nikita Mikhalkov.

Gombo is a Mongolian sheep herder and nomad, who lives with his mom, wife, and three children in a yurt in Inner Mongolia. (That is, the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, not the independent nation of Mongolia). His is a simple existence on the treeless steppe, although lately he's bothered by his wife Pagma's refusal to have sex—she's very fertile and she's reluctant to get pregnant again and give the family another mouth to feed.

One day a Russian truck driver named Sergei, who is working to build a road in the province, falls asleep at the wheel of his truck. The truck veers off the road and eventually gets stuck in a stream near Gombo's yurt. Despite not really being able to understand each other, the two men form a friendship.


  • The Alcoholic: Their neighbor Bayartou, who is drunk every single time he drops by.
    Pagma: (as Bayartou approaches) Even his horse is swaying.
  • Brick Joke: Bayartou brings them a picture of his "brother", which is really a poster for Sly Stallone film Cobra. Near the end of his film when Gombo has his dream, the TV he bought starts spontaneously playing a scene from Cobra.
  • Circling Vultures: How Sergei notices what turns out to be a corpse left out on the open steppe to be eaten.
  • Country Mouse: Gombo is very much ill at ease as he navigates a teeming city. He does enjoy an amusement park ride though, so much that he falls asleep on it.
  • Creator Cameo: Nikita Mikhailkov can be seen 57 minutes in, riding a bicycle as Gombo is going through the town.
  • Distant Finale: Ends with a voiceover from the son conceived by Gombo and Pagma in 1991, along with a shot of a smokestack at the place where he was conceived.
  • Don't Come A-Knockin': When Mongolian nomads are having sex out on the steppe, the man sticks his urga into the ground as a signal to others to stay away and give them privacy.
  • Dream Sequence: Gombo has a dream near the end where his neighbor Bayartou appears as Genghis Khan, with Pagma as his bride. Gombo and Sergei get killed by Genghis, but not before he wrecks their bicycle and TV.
  • Foreign Queasine: Not the cuisine so much as how it's prepared. Gombo slaughters a sheep, not by slitting its throat as a Westerner might, but by slicing its belly open and sticking his whole hand and upper arm inside to do...something. Squeezing the heart maybe? In any case Sergei watches with wide eyes and mouth hanging open. He is extremely reluctant to join them for the dinner that follows.
  • Freaky Funeral Forms: The actual reason that Sergei drove his truck into the stream is that he freaked out and panicked after finding a dead body in the grass. It turns out that the body was left there as part of a local practice called "sky burial", in which corpses are deliberately left out to be eaten by vultures. Gombo thinks his neighbor is on the way to becoming a god, but Sergei is horrified.
  • Gainax Ending: The peculiar ending has a voiceover from Gombo and Pagma's fourth child, conceived out on the step in 1991. That's not peculiar, but the voiceover has the son talking about how he likes to visit Baikal, a place where there used to be a lake and used to be Russians—Lake Baikal is totally still a thing and it's still in Russia. The son then muses about how he's looking forward to visit Los Angeles, to meet Japanese people.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: A shot of the unspoiled Central Asian steppe, as Pagma gazes from a hilltop, is immediately followed by a shot of a telephone pole in the city, wires going everywhere.
  • Meet Cute: A non-romantic example as Gombo and Sergei first meet when Sergei drives his truck into the stream near Gombo's yurt.
  • Shout-Out: Bayartou the goofball unrolls a picture that he claims is a picture of his brother in America. It's a poster for the movie Cobra, with Sylvester Stallone.
  • Slice of Life: There really isn't much of a story, more of a picture of an odd friendship.
  • Title Drop: Gombo asks his son, "Bouin, why did you put the red cloth on the urga?" It's a hoop on a stick used to corral sheep. Sergei later explains to his wife that when a Mongolian nomad and his wife want to have sex out in the tall grass, they plant the urga into the dirt as a sign for people to steer clear.
  • Trojan Gauntlet: Gombo is a grown man, but he is still uncomfortable buying condoms in a pharmacy, especially because all the workers are both female and Chinese. One even asks him if he wants condoms, but an embarrassed Gombo mutters a denial and leaves.