Best known for his Chekhov adaptations, Mikhalkov here came up with a film full of narrative surprises. Set for the most part in the vast, empty steppes of Chinese Mongolia, it's partly a docudrama detailing the day-to-day existence of a herdsman's family, partly a fable about the material and spiritual threats facing a robust but largely forgotten culture (the urga is a herdsman's lasso, but also a symbol of traditions in harmony with nature). Into this strange, remote world comes a Russian ex-soldier, working on a road-building project. Nothing here is quite as it seems, and as Mikhalkov guides us on a voyage into a fascinating but unfamiliar landscape, he deploys dreamy images, rapturous music, and bizarre incongruities to undermine our assumptions about 'primitive' Mongolian life. Admittedly, towards the end the narrative gets a little out of control, but much of it is very funny, and the engagingly naturalistic performances, the ravishing camerawork, and the mostly subtle use of natural symbols sustain interest throughout.
Cast and crew