If Only I Could Hibernate
The title of the first Mongolian film to play in the official selection at Cannes Film Festival speaks to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed, or disillusioned at the apparent fruitlessness of their devotion. It is especially resonant as much of the world emerges from a winter of rising fuel costs that have seen families often struggling for mere survival. Sometimes, a month-long nap seems like the most appropriate response to a crisis.
The protagonist of this quietly despairing yet compassionate and tender tale is Ulzii (Battsooj Uurtsaikh), a promising young physicist living in a remote region of Ulaanbataar. Catching the eye of his physics teacher, who enrols him in a competition that could see him earn a prestigious scholarship to study abroad, Ulzii sees a road out of his punishing situation. While he plans for a prosperous career, however, his mother’s (Ganchimeg Sandagdorj) immediate priorities tunnel towards surviving the harsh Mongolian winter. When an offer of work takes her away from home, her son is left to sustain himself and his two younger siblings, forcing him into dangerous, illicit work, to the detriment of his studies.
Debut director Zoljargal Purevdash combines a personal tale with an socio-ecological subtext of the region with great subtlety and dexterity: the environmental problems which arise out of the necessity for copious amounts of coal burning to get through brutal minus 35C winters rumbles under the surface of Ulzii’s quest for self-amelioration. In a not too dissimilar way to Adama of Banel & Adama, the young man here is torn between his own personal ambition and a duty of care to his family in the absence of his mother – a conflict that is the film’s lifeblood.
The tone is equally supple, oscillating between something puckish and offbeat to a pathos and solemnity that bursts through its surface, while Davaanyam Delgerjargal’s cinematography takes full advantage of the mountainous yurt district, bringing into sharp focus the unforgiving environment and our young hero’s place in it.
If Only I Could Hibernate is one of the stronger entries in this year’s Un Certain Regard selection: gentle, compelling and less self-absorbed than some of its immediate competition.
If Only I Could Hibernate does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for If Only I Could Hibernate here: