The Öndög of the title refers to the local name for a fossilised, fertilised dinosaur egg, of which a number have been excavated in Mongolia. It’s playfully suggested that the people of Mongolia descended from dinosaurs, which hopefully will never result in a particularly racist future instalment of the Jurassic Park franchise. With his fourth film to compete at the Berlin International Film Festival, director Wang Quan’an has delivered a piece of work that’s difficult to pin down.
A woman’s naked body is discovered in the vast, sun-bleached Mongolian-Manchurian grasslands, and given the isolation of the region, it’s decided that a junior police officer (Norovsambuu Batmunkh) will need to guard the body overnight. He’s kept company by a local herdswoman (Dulamjav Enkhtaivan), who rides her camel to the scene with a rifle in hand to fend off any curious wolves. It should be noted that none of the characters are given names, and that camels should be used for law enforcement more often. The simple premise transitions into something surprisingly substantial, with an evening of corpse-guarding nudging the story in an unexpected direction.
Quan’an makes some striking choices, and with the lack of names for his characters, it could be thought that their respective identities are largely immaterial. This is emphasised by the distance from the action that Quan’an’s camera is initially positioned, making it difficult to see the specifics of a person’s face (which isn’t helped by the fact that their faces are covered to ward off the cold). In the opening scenes (presented as a luminous wide shot), a viewer has to make the active choice about which of the figures on the screen warrants their attention – it’s practically (and presumably deliberately) impossible to take in the entirety of the image at once. The narrative weaves together a number of ostensibly disparate threads to create a brilliantly curious cinematic experience.
Öndög does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Öndög here: