LFF 2019 ‘Öndög’: A Disturbance on the Mongolian Plains

A body is found in the middle of a vast expanse of arid grassland in Mongolia. A guard is left to keep watch. He is forced to call on a local woman, the only person they could find with a rifle, to scare off a wolf that threatens the crime scene. The guard and the woman bond during the harsh Romanian night.

Ondog is a visually poetic meditation on motherhood in the wilds. The wolf is revealed to be a mother wolf hoping to procure food for her cubs. The native woman has twice attempted to have children of her own but has lost both. Another native man treasures a dinosaur egg saying the dinosaurs went extinct because they didn’t make enough. The importance of children and reproduction is emphasised throughout the film. A dramatic set-piece involving the birth of a calf illustrates the dangers that face the young of this place must endure.

Ondog is also a very charming film with light touches of humour and sincerity. The characters may live grim lives but there is a great deal of affection between them. The characters have dreams and romance. They look at the stars and dance alone. It’s a very human story set amongst these sparce landscapes.

The very deliberate pace communicates the lifestyle of the plains. It takes a long time to travel from one place to another and nothing comes quickly. The movie cultivates the sedate atmosphere of this lifestyle. Even dramatic scenes of an autopsy commencing, a lamb being slaughtered or the birth of a calf are slow affairs that emphasise the authenticity of the moment.

Ondog is an atmospheric character study. It’s a rumination on motherhood and hope at the very end of the world.

Four Stars

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