Close to Eden ★★★

Although this Golden Lion winner eventually reveals itself to be a rather trite tract about cultural contamination, it nonetheless is redeemed to some extent by its expressive use of landscape photography and its documentary appeal. So few fiction films have been set on the Mongolian steppe that the few that we do have inevitably serve as a point of ethnographic fascination. Mikhalkov’s work is at its best when it focuses on the simplicity of life in a yurt, instead of attempting to persuade us of the inherent goodness of the people who live there. An extended sequence that depicts an animal slaughter (an inferior parallel to Tulpan’s breathtaking birth scene) and meal is surely the highlight here, which is indicative of the overall small stakes that the film has until its protagonist ventures into the city in the film’s second half. At this point the sweetness that dominated the first half curdles into naivete, both on the part of the characters and Mikhalkov himself.