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.