In Lu Zhang's 2007 film Desert Dream, the horizon divides almost every scene. A strange, strictly composed portrait of the life of a preservationist named Hungai (Osor Bat-Ulzii), who lives in a yurt on the rapidly deteriorating Mongolian steppes, it is a film without a single close-up; its characters often take the form of avatars poised on an epic, forbidding brink between sand and sky. The camera's steadfast grip on that horizon is also a constant invocation of what lies beyond it for Zhang';s lost, lonesome characters. After his wife and daughter leave to pursue medical care for the young girls hearing loss, Hungai is left alone to do his futile tree-planting only briefly before two North Korean refugees—a mother and her son—come shuffling through. Somehow bonding more deeply with strangers and without the benefit of a common language than he could with his own family, the three quickly form a tentative domestic unit that is challenged as soon as it is struck. The endless tableaux of mundane activity, petty disappointment, and failed interaction bear cumulative fruit; Zhang holds his series of quotidian moments long enough for small pockets of fear and longing to be emptied slowly, the contents arrayed like precious gems.
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