Part neorealistic parable (Asian division) and part Jarmusch-like deadpan riff, filmmaker Pema Tseden’s sublime drama focuses on a slackerish young man (Drolma Kyab) who, desperate to cash in on the black-market value of the country’s nomad-mastiff sheepdogs, decides to sell the family canine. (The fact that this breed is a particularly sought-after commodity in China—a nation that’s played no small part in Tibet’s history—is, of course, not the least bit coincidental.) His elderly father (Lochey) isn’t eager to part with the pooch, however, as various buyers, bureaucrats, relatives, thieves, policemen and shady operators come into the picture. Meanwhile, like a boomerang, the dog keeps coming back with its tail wagging behind him.
A major player in the burgeoning Tibetan film scene, Tseden has an affinity for you-are-there long takes and sandpaper-dry humor, which lends a transcendental grace to his tale—and in the case of a brilliant real-time sequence featuring a rogue sheep trying to jump into the pen it’s just escaped from, adds a whole other level of sublime symbolic resonance. It’s both a sly piece of ethnography and a social satire that reads like a cosmic joke…right up until its climax makes the chuckle catch in your throat.
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