OLD DOG (LAO GOU/KHYI RGAN) (Pema Tseden, 2011)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Series runs through June 1
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk
Pema Tseden’s Old Dog is a beautifully told, slowly paced meditation on Buddhism’s four Noble Truths — “Life means suffering”; The origin of suffering is attachment”; “The cessation of suffering is attainable”; and “There is a path to the cessation of suffering” — that ends with a shocking, manipulative finale that nearly destroys everything that came before it. In order to get a little money and to save the family’s sheep-herding dog from being stolen, Gonpo (Drolma Kyab) sells their Tibetan nomad mastiff to Lao Wang (Yanbum Gyal), a dealer who resells the prized breed to stores in China, where they’re used for protection. When Gonpa’s father (Lochey) finds out what his son has done, he goes back to Lao Wang and demands the return of the dog he’s taken care of for thirteen years. “I’d sell myself before the dog,” he tells his son. And so begins a gentle tale of parents and children, set in a modern-day Tibet that is ruled by China’s heavy hand. Gonpa’s father doesn’t understand why his son, a lazy man who rides around on a motorized bike and never seems to do much of anything, doesn’t yet have any children of his own, so he pays for Gonpa and his wife Rikso, (Tamdrin Tso), to go to the doctor to see what’s wrong. Meanwhile, the old man keeps a close watch on his dog, wary that Lao Wang will to try to steal it again. Writer-director Pema Tseden (The Silent Holy Stones, The Search) explores such themes as materialism, family, and attachment in a lovely little film that sadly is nearly ruined by its extreme final scene. Old Dog is screening at MoMA May 15-20 as part of “Chinese Realities/Documentary Visions,” with Tseden taking part in a discussion with Asia Society film curator La Frances Hui after the 8:00 show on May 16 and with Hui and Chris Berry following the 7:00 show on May 18. The series continues through June 1 with such other films as Zhang Yuan’s Mama, Zhang Yimou’s The Story of Qiu Ju, Jia Zhangke’s 24 City, and Ai Weiwei’s Disturbing the Peace.