Connect with us
Quan'an Wang Öndög


Öndög | 2019 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Öndög | 2019 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Steppe in the Name of Love: Quan’an Returns with Distinctive, Mysterious Flair

Quan'an Wang ÖndögFor his seventh feature, Chinese filmmaker Wang Quan’an turns to the Mongolian steppe with Öndög, a casual yet distinctive portrait of a locale which begins as a thriller and ends somewhere in a gently determined cycle of existentialist themes it beautifully grows into. Surprising in its unexpected narrative variations, this is a far cry from Quan’an’s Golden Bear winning Tuya’s Wedding (2006), also set in Inner Mongolia and centered on the plight of a woman forced to make drastic decisions to support both herself and her family. Quan’an luxuriates in the significant spectacle of the film’s rural hinterlands and allows his small cast of characters to quietly but powerfully divulge tidbits of information about themselves and their beliefs, enhanced by a methodical pace filled with juxtaposed ideas and themes.

A woman is found dead in the Mongolian steppe, circled by a wolf. The local police dispatch the help of the nearest herder, a woman known as Dinosaur (Dulamjav Enhtaivan), whose rifle is the only weapon which can scare the animal away in order for them to collect the body. A novice police officer is left to guard the body overnight, while Dinosaur is requested to keep watch over him. They share an intimate interlude and go their separate ways. While the investigation ensues and a man confesses to the crime, we learn more of Dinosaur, who carries on a curious relationship with her only neighbor, Orlig (Aorigeletu).

The film’s title, as we’re told by Orlig, refers to a dinosaur egg, or fossils left behind by the ancient creatures, remains of which were discovered in Mongolia. As their own culture and people shrink to the point of cultural extinction, extra levity is awarded the life and death cycle on display in Öndög, which begins with a corpse and ends with, well let’s just say the process generating new life. Between these extremes is a lightly entertaining essay on female agency through his main character, the herdswoman referenced mainly by her local nickname, which becomes more meaningful by the film’s end.

Sans a neighbor we learn she may have had children with at one point who is still interested in marrying her (a sly proposition instigated every opportunity she calls upon him for, which includes both the killing of and birthing of animals), she’s alone within 100 kilometers of anyone else, a remnant of the past but also a symbol of progressive resiliency. The subplot involving the dead girl is mirrored by the police chief’s own ‘romance’ with his wife, both tales in which women are punished by or forced into their decisions in who they choose to marry.

One of the film’s most significant achievements is Aymerick Pilarski’s cinematography, capturing the hallowed beauty of the steppes in long, static compositions (it’s a while before we get near enough to any of the characters to see their faces), not to mention some lulling editing from Yang Wenjian (in one slow-motion alcohol-infused love making sequence, Dinosaur rises up to shoot her rifle into the darkness to scare off the she-wolf circling them for food—again, a marvelous juxtaposition of life and death making acts with the ‘shooting of one’s shot’).

Strange, entertaining and always unexpected, Öndög is a rich new offering from Wang Quan’an, and perhaps one of the most pleasurable entries into his significant filmography.

Reviewed on February 8th at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. Opening Night Film – Competition. 100 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top