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BERLIN — While some directors find their niches, others create or recreate their own genres. This is definitively the case with Byambasuren Davaa, whose docudrama “The Story of the Weeping Camel” tugged at heartstrings in arthouse cinemas across the world a few years back. Using non-actors and real locations, Davaa managed to bring the traditional culture of her native Mongolia to the screen and attract sizable audiences with the help of her protagonist, an impossibly cute camel colt being spurned by its mother.
After her follow-up, “The Cave of the Yellow Dog” — which also profited from a cuddly animal — Davaa now presents her third strike, “The Two Horses of Genghis Khan,” which has animals in the title, but rarely on screen.
Commercial prospects are not nearly as good as they were for Davaa’s two previous films, since the animals of the title are exactly that. A lovable camel or lost canine on-screen would certainly have help at the boxoffice.
The horses Davaa refers to are part of a long forgotten song. The singer Urna has set out on a quest to honor her grandmother’s memory by finding it again. Traveling across Mongolia, she searches for people who might remember part of the lyrics, but also keeps in touch with a maker of violins who is restoring what was left of her grandmother’s beloved instrument after the great cultural purge.
But wherever she turns or whomever she meets, be it in urban Ulan Bator or the countryside, the answer is always the same. People might have heard of the song, but don’t remember it, a not so subtle metaphor for old traditions and cultures changing to accommodate the new Asia.
Only towards the end of the film, when all that was unique seems to have vanished or faded away, does she meet an ancient woman who still knows the cherished piece of musical heritage, allowing Urna to fulfill her grandmother’s greatest wish.
While “The Two Horses of Genghis Khan” presents another step for director Davaa towards a more fictional narrative, her efforts seem more clearly planned and less organic than in her two previous films. The film’s heroine, who has traveled the world in real life and this narrative, is clearly more stilted than previous non-actors Davaa employed, as are several other characters and extras who can at times be caught overacting or mugging for the camera.
Technical credits, especially Martijn van Broekhuizen’s evocative cinematography are well above par, with the haunting music by Ganpurev Dagvan reaching the lofty level expected from a film about a lost song.
Opened June 10 (Germany)
Production companies: Grasland Film GbR, Atrix Films
Cast: Urna Chahar-Tugchi, Hicheengui Sambuu, Chimed Dolgor
Directorscreenwriter: Byambasuren Davaa
Producer: Beatrix Wesle, Byambasuren Davaa
Director of photography: Martijn van Broekhuizen
Music: Ganpurev Dagvan
Editor: Jana Musik
No rating, 91minutes
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