Chinese filmmaker Wang Quan’an is a man in control of himself and his narrative, and at ease on the European festival circuit. His “Ondog” is an early front-runner for a trophy at the Berlin Film Festival, where it played in competition Friday.
The film, the tale of an encounter between a very young cop and an older herdswoman nicknamed Dinosaur, takes place out on the vast Mongolian plains. It is handsome, slow and quietly moving.
“This film depicts the enormity of nature, the wisdom of nature, and transcends human morals. Dinosaur has transcendent wisdom,” Wang said at a Berlin press event on Friday. There he unpacked the film’s plot lines, and elucidated its none-too-difficult metaphors and allusions.
Dinosaur is not just the character’s name; a giant fossilized egg (or “Ondog” in the Mongolian language) is a gift that the gauche cop gives the herder as they share a post-coital cigarette. He has also given her another gift by fertilizing Dinosaur’s own egg.
Wang is fluent in the niceties of the film festival circuit. “I was not so motivated by filmmaking in recent years. But this film is my parting gift for Dieter,” he said of Dieter Kosslick, the departing head of the Berlinale. “My happiness for him is tinged with sadness. Dieter is a classic image of the Berlinale.”
Wang has much to be thankful for at Berlin. His “Tuya’s Marriage” was a Golden Bear winner, and his “Apart Together” and “White Deer Plains” also played in the official selection.
His new film plays perfectly in the European art-house register. It ranges from languor to philosophy, is largely played by earthy non-professionals, and includes footage of the birth of a real calf. Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” also makes a surprising intrusion.
“The film’s minimalist technique shows only small movements on screen, but a lot happening,” said Wang, who once again turned to a European cinematographer to deliver his festival-ready package.
Having previously worked with Germany’s Lutz Reitemeier, Wang teamed with young French cinematographer Aymerick Pilarski to deliver “Ondog’s” breathtaking vistas and the cramped interiors of yurts. “In Mongolia you can see someone coming 100 kilometers away,” Wang said. Pilarski’s Chinese-language skills, which he developed while learning his craft in Beijing, also helped him work quickly with Wang on a hurried 16-day shoot.
Asked why there are so many Chinese films in the festival – Zhang Yimou’s “One Second” and Wang Xiaoshuai’s “So Long, My Son” also play in Berlin’s main competition – Wang did not miss a beat. “We are just three old friends who have come together to create an unforgettable finale to Dieter’s reign,” he said.