THE FOREIGN FILM THAT WASN’T
by Harvey Perr
published March 7, 2008
released by Lifesize Entertainment
running time 85 minutes
The DVD revolution assures us that eventually there is no film made
that will not exist one day on disc. So that extraordinary little film that everyone raved about but lasted only a brief time at our local
cinema doesn’t need to fade away but can instead end up in our living room. We may be still be waiting for The African Queen to make its way to our shelves to take its place among the classics we can’t live without,
but, while we wait, a film like Khadak gets released. Surely there is someone out there who
couldn’t wait for this one.
Khadak certainly satisfies
the demands of many foreign film lovers. It was made in
Mongolia, introduces us to a culture which is probably little known to most of the outside world, and has enough ravishing images of that
country to thrill many armchair travelers.
It is also a pretty bad little movie which has much less to do with great cinema than a Daffy Duck cartoon (I apologize to Daffy
Duck’s millions of fans, since I count myself among them, if I seem to be suggesting that Daffy hasn’t made some stunning contributions to
film art, when I meant exactly the opposite).
This incomprehensible little epic was made by an anthropologist and documentarian, Peter Brosens, and a former journalist, Jessica
Woodworth, both of whom are obviously strangers to fiction films, and hellbent on remaining so. The story they are trying in vain to tell
us is about a family of nomads who are moved from their yurt in the middle of the vast and legendary Mongolian desert to an urban
environment, forced into labor in a mining town, all due to a government order to evacuate because there is a plague in the desert. The
film’s young hero – who is told that he must fulfill his father’s destiny (his father delivered apples to nomads during what visually looks
like World War II; the colors are bleached out), and who is a potential shaman – discovers that the government order is a lie and that the
real intention of the cultural capitalists is to rid the country of its nomads and create a working force. So he joins together with some
alienated youths (there are always alienated youths in films like this) who are either performance artists or musicians (we see them
rehearsing for a theater piece and, later, what looks like a concert) to rebel against the evil empire. I think they succeed. But, given
the directors’ indifference to form, I can’t be sure.
The film gives us both a semblance of harsh truth and more superstition than you think any contemporary society is still capable
of. I suppose this is what makes critics refer to the film’s “magical realism,” in their
attempts to breathe relevance into this film. When a horse is killed, his owner “feels” the
pain; when a young woman is buried under tons of coal, the same “feeling” young hero hears her cries of pain and saves her. They, along
with other members of the large cast, wear the kind of heavy Mongolian winter clothes that would look fine on the fashion world’s runways.
And the yurts they live in could easily adorn a Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue. This is one of those films that want to have it every which
way. It’s got beautiful deserts and urban decay, it’s got despair and it’s got triumph, it’s got intimations of political outrage and even
more intimations of sheer fantasy. And its film makers have the good fortune to have as their cinematographer a very talented artist,
Rimvydas Leipus, who almost makes the film look like the “trippy spectacle” one of its admirers claims it is. But, to this reviewer, it
looks like a lot of beautifully framed shots that go on too long and go nowhere and can’t cover up the fact that this film makes no sense
at all. Welcome, Khadak, into our living room!
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com