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The Cave of the Yellow Dog
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this award-winning movie featuring a real-life Mongolian family includes a couple of suspenseful, perilous scenes when a child is lost or left alone. Viewers also see animal carcasses, vultures feeding, a sheep being skinned, and kids playing with dung. Be prepared to confront gender assumptions -- the little boy looks like a girl with his hair in pigtails and it comes as a big surprise when his sex is revealed by a brief non-sexual nude shot. Overall, the movie is a unique peek into an unfamiliar culture that could expand kids' understanding of the world.
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What's the story?
Nansal returns from boarding school to live with her nomadic Mongolian family for the summer only to discover that wolves are threatening her family's herd. She finds a dog in a cave and names him Zochor (Spot), but her dad disapproves. He's afraid that because wolves live in caves, they'll track down the dog and make the family's problems worse. Nansal is told to get rid of him, but can't bring herself to do so. If anything, he's a distraction from her responsibilities. She has to decide whether to obey her parents or follow her heart as the family prepares to leave for another camp.
Is it any good?
Director Byambasuren Davaa lived with the Batchuluuns, a real nomadic family in Mongolia, and let things unfold naturally to create this thoughtful and beautiful film. We get a no-frills view, with stunning cinematography, of everyday life, which is threatened by the encroaching city and its lure for families like the Batchuluuns. From the scene of two siblings fighting after they wake up one morning to the dismantling of their yurt, the family going about their daily life is fascinating to watch, especially because the rosy-cheeked children rely on their imaginations for play and have more physical and adult responsibilities than their peers might elsewhere.
Between the harsh realities of nomadic life and the scary moments of children being separated from their parents, this isn't always an easy movie for kids to watch. And the movie has a slow feel to it, so some kids might get a bit restless. There are some heavy topics about modern life and its effect on cultures that will raise questions for older kids, but ultimately the universal themes of hope, family, and value of human life will resonate with all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in films. What's seen in this movie is real and many times, necessary. How does this compare with violence or gore in other films?
What can we learn about the kids in this movie? How are their lives different and similar to yours? How did they use their creativity? Could you go without TV for a week? How would you entertain yourself?
What do you think will happen to Nansal and her family? What is happening to their lifestyle? What effect does the media play in how some cultures are changing?