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If Only I Could Hibernate

  • Film
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Conic Film

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

A stunningly assured debut feature puts Mongolia on the movie map

The number of films originating from Mongolia makes every​ single one feel special, as much for their glimpses of life in the East Asian republic as any story they might tell. A large subset is concerned with the nation’s most famous export, Genghis Khan.

If Only I Could Hibernate follows teenager Ulzii (Battsooj Uurtsaikh), his widowed, alcholic mother (Ganchimeg Sandagdorj) and his three younger siblings as they scratch out a living in their yurt, incongruously located in the industrialised and rapidly modernising capital, Ulaanbaatar.

Ulzii has a precocious talent for physics, nurtured by his kindly teacher (Batzorig Sukhbaatar). It’s a gift that might lead to a full scholarship to a good school – and a ticket out of poverty.

But his reality is harsher than the Mongolian winter, where temperatures dip as low as minus 30. Instead of studying, his time is taken up with odd jobs, selling his shoes to pay for coal, collecting cardboard to feed the fire and reluctantly calling on the kindness of neighbours to help the family through. Ulzii’s pride – he is horrified when he discovers his sister selling homemade bracelets at the market – is matched only by a determination to pull his family out of poverty without following his friends into a life of crime.

Bleak yet hopeful, this an astonishingly assured debut

It only takes one filmmaker to put a country on the movie map, and first-timer Zoljargal Purevdash has real talent. Her 2020 short Stairs became a festival favourite, and it’s easy to see why If Only I Could Hibernate became the first Mongolian film to be officially selected for the Cannes film festival. Her nuanced script and assured direction, augmented by Davaanyam Delgerjargal’s captivating cinematography and Johanni Curtet’s deftly diverse music, finds enthralling ways to show cultural traditions clashing with rapid modernisation. And in Uurtsaikh, she’s found a young actor of remarkable subtlety and self-possession.

As bleak as a winter’s day on the steppes, yet as hopeful as green shoots emerging from a spring thaw, If Only I Could Hibernate is an astonishingly assured debut.

In UK cinemas Apr 19.

David Hughes
Written by
David Hughes

Cast and crew

  • Director:Zoljargal Purevdash
  • Screenwriter:Zoljargal Purevdash
  • Cast:
    • Batzorig Sukhbaatar
    • Batmandakh Batchuluun
    • Ganchimeg Sandagdorj
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