Close to Eden (Urga) Territory of Love [1991] France, Soviet Union

If you've ever wanted to visit the steppes of Mongolia but were afraid to ask, this film will take you there. The gorgeous landscapes almost pale in comparison to the beauty of the sheperding family of five--plus grandma--who live there in a yurt. Life is simple and slowly paced, but different. Imagine watching a five year old boy help his dad kill and gut a lamb for dinner and finding it moving and gentle rather than creepy and gross. The husband is pure country but the wife is from the city so she knows about things like television and birth control. In Mongolia families are allowed to have three children, not just one as in mainland China. The man enjoys intimate activities with his beautiful wife but she is concerned about having another child. The film detours a bit when the husband goes to the nearest town to buy a television and some contraceptives. I would have been happier if the film had remained a simple portrait of family life on the Mongolia steppes rather than presenting a story about the onslaught of civilization represented by a Russian highway builder whose truck breaks down near the family's home. But that story is part and parcel of the family's portrait today. A drunken Russian brings some harsh to their mellow and the film drifts out of focus ... but I guess that's the point.

An urga is a lasso of sorts attached to a very long stick and is used to capture animals. It is also stuck into the ground as a signal that someone is engaging in amorous relations and they don't want to be disturbed. The final shot shows a smokestack instead of an urga rising from the horizon.


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