Batbayar is entering his preferred realm of intricate connections where fidelity is not a consideration.
This year, only six movies from Asia were included in the Official Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, out of a total of 20 titles. One standout film was “White Flag” by Batbayar Chogsom, a second-time director, which takes place in the stunning Mongolian steppe and is surrounded by striking, bare mountains.
The film “White Flag” will be shown at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Batbayar received global recognition for his first film, “Out Of Paradise” (2018), which won the Best Film Award at the Shanghai International Film Festival. He describes this achievement as unexpected. It took him five years to create his second movie, as he faced challenges in securing funding for other projects he wanted to film in Switzerland. When his efforts to obtain financing were unsuccessful, Batbayar turned his attention back to his home country and made another heartwarming independent film. This movie showcases the lives of individuals who desire a simple and content existence in a place that is not typically associated with happiness by city dwellers.
In his debut film, a straight couple who are travelers turn to Ulaanbaatar for assistance. However, in his second film, a young lesbian couple flees the city and settles in a secluded area to escape scrutiny. Unfortunately, the yurt community they settle in does not provide the privacy they desired, as the previous owner’s land is still watched by nosy herders who assert their dominance by marking the land.
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Naran (Urtnasan Erdenebayer) and Saran (Erdenetsetseg Enkhbayar) quickly realize they are not safe after moving into their yurt when a drunken man attempts to rape one of them. The reason for his failure becomes a pivotal moment in this story of love, trust, betrayal, and anger. The film “White Flag” uses wide shots to show how the natural environment can consume people’s hopes, similar to western classics. It also shares similarities with “Territory of Love” (1991) directed by Nikita Mikhalkov in its portrayal of a woman being chased in a similar setting.
Despite seeming contradictory, the movie also has a strong western influence in its original score by Yukio Elien Lanz, which incorporates a significant amount of Mongol-Tuvan throat singing. The throat singing is just as captivating as a harmonica solo in Ennio Morricone’s iconic music for “Once Upon A Time In The West” (directed by Sergio Leone in 1969). The score is effectively used throughout the film, seamlessly blending with the sounds of nature or in moments of silence.
The plot of the story has many layers, which can be confusing at times, particularly when it comes to the past of the two women and the detective’s seemingly foolish role as an officer in a seemingly uneventful area. His character embodies both the stereotypical Hollywood loner cop and a charismatic Asian man with a hidden past, who finds excitement in the arrival of new residents and adds some much-needed color to his dull and solitary life.
When two women move to a remote rural area and live as herders, they naturally attract unexpected visitors. However, one of these visitors is not just a friendly neighbor or a curious onlooker. Detective Zorig, who rides a cool motorbike, senses that his mundane life is about to change when he realizes that the women’s arrival coincides with the sudden disappearance of a notorious drunk known for his aggressive behavior. Zorig makes a habit of visiting Naran and Saran, who claim to be sisters, almost every day. As time passes, a complicated dynamic develops, with Batbayar stepping into familiar territory of complex relationships where fidelity is not a given. It could be argued that in this case, he is disregarding the sexual orientation of one of the main characters in his own story, as well as her background and reasons for choosing to live in isolation. On the other hand, one could also argue that Naran’s questionable decisions are driven by her desire to protect herself and her friends from an ongoing investigation.
It is interesting to note that despite the use of “lotta love,” the film “White Flag” does not contain any sexually explicit scenes. The theme of intimacy remains prevalent throughout the film, even when one of the women chooses to let her Lady Godiva out. First-time actresses Urtnasan and Erdenetsetseg successfully convey the closeness of a couple in their portrayal on screen, particularly in scenes depicting their everyday life such as telling bedtime stories, tending to the land, and bathing. Cinematographer Lukas Graf captures the actresses in a close, intimate manner without disrupting the magic of their on-screen chemistry. The scenes filmed inside a real yurt, which serves as the women’s home, exude a sense of warmth.
The first showing of “White Flag” – one of the rare Mongolian LGTBQ+ films – at the Tallinn Official Competition is a strong foundation for its future global screenings.