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Film / The Cave of the Yellow Dog

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The Cave of the Yellow Dog is a 2006 film from Mongolia, directed by Byambasuren Davaa.

Nansal is a little girl of maybe nine years who comes from a family of nomads living on the steppes of Mongolia. Like all Mongolian nomads, Nansal's family scrapes out a living raising livestock and selling their meats and skins. Nansal's father is worried about wolves, which are a major problem for Mongolian nomads as they will catch and eat a nomad's livestock.

Nansal comes home from the boarding school that nomadic children must attend if they want an education. While gathering up animal dung to be used as fuel, she finds a stray dog in a cave. She christens her dog Zochor ("Spot") and brings him back to the family yurt. Her father tells her that they can't keep the dog as dogs on the Mongolian steppe cohabitate with wolves and will bring the attention of wolves to their herd of animals. Nansal, however, won't take no for an answer.

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Tropes:

  • Adult Fear: Your child disappearing. The mother has to deal with this when Nansal doesn't come back from herding the sheep, and the parents feel this more acutely when they find that their toddler son Batbayar has somehow escaped from the wicker basket he was placed in when the family started off on their move.
  • Amateur Cast: A real Mongolian nomadic family using their real names formed the cast of Davaa's movie.
  • Circling Vultures: Shown repeatedly circling animal carcasses in the vicinity of the family's yurt. At the climax Nansal's little brother has to be rescued from them.
  • Country Mouse: A theme. Nansal's family is enchanted when the father comes back from selling his meats and skins in the city, bringing them presents like a little wind-up dog. One time Nansal stacks a bunch of dung lumps atop each other and wonders what it would be like to live in the big city where all the "yurts" are stacked atop each other. The final shot of the movie shows the family's little caravan trundling away, the old traditional nomadic lifestyle, while a van barrels by with a loudspeaker urging people to vote, the new modern lifestyle.
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  • Free-Range Children: Well maybe it's different when you actually do live on the range! Still, Nansal is tasked with getting on a horse and taking the sheep out to graze. Her mother gets very upset when Nansal doesn't come home—Nansal got distracted looking for her dog.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Nanasal, Nansalmaa, and even Batbayar all have pigtails on their heads throughout the film.
  • Heroic Dog: The climax comes when little Batbayar toddles away, into close proximity with a stream, and close proximity with some Circling Vultures who are looking for dinner. Zochor breaks free from his rope and protects the boy.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: The old woman that Nansal meets tells her the parable of the yellow dog, to teach a lesson about how families have to make sacrifices.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with the family, having packed up the yurt, heading off to new grazing land.
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: Nansal and her little sister play this game. And because they're Mongolian nomads, Nansal imagines one cloud to be a man riding a camel.
  • Title Drop: When the old lady tells the tale of a father who puts a yellow dog in a cave with no exit, because a shaman told him the dog was making his daughter sick.
  • Video Credits: For the whole family.
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