Lochey, Drolma Kyab, Tamdrin Tso, Yanbum Gyal,
Pema Tseden’s absolutely mesmerizing third feature, Old Dog, unfurls on plains some three thousand feet above sea level in the Tibetan region of the Chinese province of Qinghai. It tells the story of an aged sheepherder, his gruff grown son (who’s having trouble conceiving a child with his wife), and the old man’s Tibetan mastiff hound—a highly prized breed, much sought after by urban Chinese—whose existence is imperiled from all sides. An emotionally gripping family story that combines “slow cinema” pacing with limitless vistas (breathtakingly photographed by cinematographer and fellow Tibetan director Sonthar Gyal), Old Dog makes use of those horizon-lines-that-delimit-human-destinies in ways that might have wowed John Ford, even as its portrait of rural anomie amid astonishing scenery takes a completely modern approach to narrative, patiently accumulating detail by telling detail. Its single most “dramatic” moment might just be a five-minute take depicting a sheep’s attempts to rejoin its flock after somehow slipping through a fence.