One thing is clear: "Khadak's" imagery is beautiful
There's an eerie, magical quality to the political and symbolist fable embedded in "Khadak," a visually beautiful film about disappearing...
Special to The Seattle Times
Movie review"Khadak," with Batzul Khayankhyarvaa, Tsetsegee Byamba. Written and directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth. 104 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. In Mongolian with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.
There's an eerie, magical quality to the political and symbolist fable embedded in "Khadak," a visually beautiful film about disappearing nomadic culture on the harsh steppes of Mongolia. The mood is set almost nonverbally — with dazzling wide-angle landscapes and intense close-ups between the nonactor leads — providing story implications that are based in realism yet border on the fantastical.
The plot involves a sensitive young epileptic man named Bagi (Batzul Khayankhyarvaa), who lives in a spartan yurt with his mother and grandfather. His illness is part of his destiny to become a shaman among his nomadic people, but that destiny is abruptly derailed when government troops forcibly evict them from the countryside with vague words about a mysterious plague that will destroy their precious sheep, goats and horses. The family is moved to a mining village where crumbling Soviet-era buildings become their urban ghetto home.
There's lots of lyrical ambition in the symbolism of nature and culture being destroyed by the ecological devastation of vast pit mines. But so much remains unexplained that the movie becomes mired down in myth. It turns nearly incomprehensible when Bagi joins with a rebellious cohort, Zolzaya (Tsetsegee Byamba), to rebel against their state-controlled oppression. There's some mumbo-jumbo about an avant-garde musical group guiding an insurgence, and a sequence that involves some sort of parallel future leading to the downright confounding denouement.
The film's co-directors, Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth, clearly have ample history and knowledge guiding them, but most viewers will need an anthropology text to grasp all the nuance that "Khadak" presents as everyday understanding in nomadic Mongolian culture. Nonetheless, the huge landscapes are astonishing, from snowy fields bathed in purple light to the ruins of ancient poured-concrete buildings that are stark and monolithic on otherwise empty horizons.
Though the dialogue is sparse, an evocative Philip Glass-like score matches the deft cinematography to fill in many gaps. Likewise, sound effects such as the clinking of a fork in a jar of potatoes or coal lumps banging into a sack become almost trance-inducing accompaniment to the visuals.
In spite of the confusion, it's a sure thing you've never seen anything quite like "Khadak."
Ted Fry: email@example.com
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