Directed by Pema Tseden
Best Narrative Feature, 2012 Brooklyn Film Festival
Grand Prize, 2011 Tokyo FILMex
Official Selection, 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam
“Sell it before it’s stolen.” This line winds its way like a vagrant snake charmer throughout OLD DOG, Pema Tseden’s masterful docu-realist fable. An award-winning novelist, Tseden has emerged as a startling auteur in the quickly developing Tibetan “New Wave,” and has become the first filmmaker to film entirely in the Tibetan language. In OLD DOG, bracing social allegory and narrative quietude underlie sweeping vistas, a tense mix which brings to mind Ingmar Bergman as much as it does Jia Zhang-ke for the way the landscape suddenly becomes a surface, uncanny and porous.
OLD DOG is a deceptively simple story, captivating in its spare narrative escalation. Gonpo, a scraggly man on motorbike, putters through a barren Tibetan mountain town with his dusty dog trotting alongside. Gonpo haggles with a trader, a cop acts as arbiter, and finally the dog changes hands. But not for the last time, as Gonpo’s father and the dog’s true owner, an elderly sheepherder named Akhu, embarks on a series of retrievals and rescues from various dog-nappings as the going price skyrockets.
As Akhu fails at each turn to protect his dog, “Sell it before it’s stolen” becomes a bankrupt, voracious logic, a mounting pressure infecting every nook and cranny. Slowly, the violence invisible in the film’s tranquil surface reveals itself in a landscape that is mortgaged. Cinematographer Sonthar Gyal’s textured wide shots give us a Tibet with crowded horizon lines, featureless skies, stark shadows, and long takes – effortlessly capturing a sort of filmic equivalent of being in high altitude – air too sharp, too thin to inhale without noticing pain. –Christina Ree
Co-presented by: Buddhist Temple of San Diego
Cast: Yanbum Gyal, Drolma Kyab, Lochey Lochey, Tamdrin Tso