Slow-paced and beautifully shot, Öndög demands attention from the viewer with its visual storytelling.
It’s seldom that a Mongolian film pops up on the list, and so taking a look at Öndög was a high priority for me.
Set on the isolated plains of Mongolia, Öndög opens in darkness and with a dead body. The police duly arrive to begin investigations, but the geographical distances involved mean that a junior officer is deployed to guard the body overnight alone. A local herdswoman is dispatched to assist the young, unarmed man, and arrives on her camel with food and vodka, keeping him from freezing to death. There are shades of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time in Anatolia about the opening, but this does not last.
Whereas I was waiting for the mystery of the corpse to be solved, the filmmakers had other things in mind. The murder investigation is concluded and dispensed with casually and the junior officer sent on another job, leaving us in the company of the unnamed herdswoman.
Her solitary and ordered life takes a turn after her encounter with the police officer, and becomes the focus for the remainder of the narrative. To divulge more would give away spoilers, although the astute viewer will easily work out what’s going to happen. But that’s fine.
Öndög is scarce in dialogue but profuse in long slow takes. Show don’t tell is clearly the guide. And while on occasion some scenes are a little too long and too slow, generally the pace of the film reflects the pace of life; once you’ve slowed into it, it’s quite a lovely, if whimsical, watch.