NEW YORK -- A magical realist fable that recalls the foreign cult films of the 1970s, the Mongolian-made "Khadak" is as visually stunning as it is ultimately bewildering. This tale of an epileptic young shepherd features enough subtext and symbolism to fuel a dozen features. The film is playing an exclusive engagement at New York's Cinema Village.
Bagi (Batzul Khayankhyavaa) enjoys a bucolic nomadic existence with his family until government forces arrive to inform them that a plague has struck the animals in their region. After their livestock is slaughtered, they are thus forced to relocate to nondescript worker housing in a bleak mining town filled with the remnants of Soviet-era architecture.
Working as a mail carrier while his grandfather sullenly sits in their apartment and his mother adapts to her new job as a heavy machine operator, Bagi meets the beautiful Zolzaya (Tsetsegee Byamba), a musician who moonlights as a coal thief. Falling in with her band of fellow traveling musicians, he soon becomes a part of their revolution against the government, which has fabricated the plague in order to destroy the nomads' way of life.
Co-directed by Belgian documentarians Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, the film becomes more surreal as it progresses, with Bagi adopting the role of a shaman in his quest to battle the evil forces destroying the natural environment.
Although clearly well-intentioned, the filmmakers are unable to effectively transmit their avant-garde, apocalyptic vision to the screen. While there are many moments of stark beauty scattered throughout, the nonsensicality of the proceedings overwhelms the message being imparted, and the stylistic devices employed, including an incongruous musical number, are ultimately more distracting than revelatory.