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Review: Khadak

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Everything is illuminated


- Khadak, screened at Venice (Lion of the Future Award), Toronto and Sundance, has won over audiences with its poetic portrayal - a blend of dreams and memories - of the sad reality of Mongolia

Review: Khadak

As recent films have stressed, Mongolia’s destiny is often associated with that of its animals. In Khadak [+see also:
film focus
interview: Jessica Woodworth
interview: Jessica Woodworth
film profile
, by Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens, an invented epidemic infects all cattle, allowing mining companies to sever herders from their traditions and relocate them to mining towns.

All that remains from the past the grandfather describes is its ghost, interiorised by the young main character Bagi through his gift – as if, as the shamanic healing scene reveals, the steppe were now "within" – as well as by the film itself, which is suffused with a fairy tale-like atmosphere from the very start, when the mother's voice says "there was a time" – a sinless time when everybody had apples.

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Khadak takes us through the looking-glass, for the ethereal universe in which the shaman evolves seems to be the only escape from this unnatural, modern world where everything and everyone has to be "redressed" – thus, Bagi is taken from institution to institution, from a quarry to prison, via hospital.

Something is wrong, one character shouts repeatedly, hope is gone ('Now has no meaning here') and all that is left to yearn for is death, or epiphany, and that is why Bagi finally resigns completely to his destiny and undergoes, through death, a transsubstantiation that allows him to come back as hope itself. And while the hero gives others this gift, suddenly the prism-like story (due to its superimposition of several time periods and realities, or rather several visions of reality) is interrupted and ends in a dreamlike symphony of movements and colours.

Thus, as sad as this beautiful film may seem, not only the mischievous grandfather's humour but also the very poetry of the aesthetic treatment of the plot convey the impression that everything is indeed illuminated. And when the film ends, the memory of the outstanding photography continues to haunts us, from the image of the dead horse in the manger to Bagi crying on a heap of coal that represents the rubble of a world now extinct, to the Canaletto-like portraits vivants and the many talismanic Mongolian blue scarves ('khadak') dancing in the wind.

(Translated from French)


international title: Khadak
original title: Khadak
country: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands
sales agent: Telepool
year: 2006
directed by: Jessica Woodworth, Peter Brosens
screenplay: Jessica Woodworth, Peter Brosens
cast: Khayankhyarvaa Batzul, Dagvadorj Dugarsuren, Byamba Tsetsegee, Banzar Damchaa, Dashnyam Tserendarizav, Enkhtaivan Uuriintuya, Namsrai Otgontogos

main awards/selection

Venice 2006 Venice Days (selection)
Lion of the Future (Luigi de Laurentiis Award for a First Feature)
CultuurPrijs van Vlaanderen 2006 voor Film (2006 Flemish Culture Award for a film)

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