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CANNES 2023 Un Certain Regard

Review: If Only I Could Hibernate


- CANNES 2023: Despite those harsh winters, Zoljargal Purevdash’s Mongolian take on Good Will Hunting is actually full of warmth

Review: If Only I Could Hibernate
Battsooj Uurtsaikh in If Only I Could Hibernate

Zoljargal Purevdash’s Un Certain Regard drama If Only I Could Hibernate [+see also:
interview: Zoljargal Purevdash
film profile
has been already making headlines, and making history, given it’s the very first Mongolian film in Cannes’ official selection. It’s easy to see why it finally made the cut, as instead of relying on her country’s mystique, Purevdash chooses universal appeal. Her story could have happened just about anywhere.

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Including, well, Boston – there are similarities here to the 1990s classic Good Will Hunting, as once again, a genius comes out of nowhere. Now, he happens to come from the yurt district in Ulaanbaatar and a struggling family that can’t even keep their home warm enough. Ulzii (Battsooj Uurtsaikh) doesn’t dwell on his unusual skills, however – it’s his teacher who notices them, urging him to pursue a scholarship that could be life-changing. At home, he gets less support. His mother (Ganchimeg Sandagdorj), illiterate and turning to booze every time the world brings her down, which is often, would rather he get himself a job.

There is a familiarity to this tale, but Purevdash, a debuting director, makes sure it’s affecting enough for that not to matter. Her young actors impress, never allowing things to get too sentimental – there is no place for it in their life, nor for self-pity. These kids are practical, they are strong – even when left all alone as their mother heads off to the countryside looking for work – and they will try their damnedest to keep going. It won’t always work, though, and all those responsibilities are weighing heavily on Ulzii.

Interestingly enough, Purevdash also grew up in the area. It would be easy to imagine another filmmaker focusing on the “exotic” Mongolia in the film, but she isn’t. There are mentions of some peculiar traditions (one involving a horse bridle and, how do we put it, toes), but they just belong there; they are a part of everyday life. Just like heavy drinking or shivering in the cold.

Some social observations still wriggle their way into the story, with a group of clueless people trying to make sure the children’s house emits less smoke – Ulaanbaatar is said to be the world’s most polluted capital – even though there is literally nothing in that home that you could burn. No wonder there is a feeling of resignation around, of lives wasted before they even begin. When someone does get a chance, they should grab it, just like Ben Affleck said all those years ago: “I mean, you are sitting on a winning lottery ticket, and you are too much of a pussy to cash it in.” But Purevdash seems hopeful that these vicious circles, these mistakes repeated generation after generation, will finally come to an end. After all, she has already cashed hers in.

If Only I Could Hibernate was produced by Mongolia’s Amygdala Films and France’s Urban Factory, with Urban Sales on board as the sales agent. Zoljargal Purevdash participated in the pilot workshop TFL Extended - Script Development, held in Turin in 2018 and organised by TorinoFilmLab – National Museum of Cinema.

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