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Monday, 02 March 2015 00:00

Kinokultura about "Steppe Games" made by Bair Dyshenov


A full-length feature film “The Steppe Games” by the Buryat director Bair Dyshenov is included into the competition program of the “Debut films” of the Montreal World Film Festival (21.08 – 01.09.2014). And also it’s included into the program “Cinema Today” of the Singapore International Film Festival (04 – 14.12.2014).In 2009, Dyshenov has received a “Crystal Bear” at Berlin Film Festival for his short film “The Buddha’s Smile,” and 2011 his other film “The Mother’s Order” was shown at Cannes Film Festival.




At night of his enlightenment, sitting under the tree of Bodhi, Buddha has experienced the insight and has seen the whole chain of his previous incarnations – tens of thousands of previous lives. And not only this: he has seen the previous lives of other living things passing to the past. This night and the next nights he has seen their future lives as well, if he had the desire.(Buddhayana)


Buddhists of the past had a complete conception about their religion. It might have been simplified, but still it was complete… Today’s Buddhists are torn away from their own cultural basis, and the ignorance and fragmentariness of religious knowledge as such present a big danger. (Andrei Bazarov)




The Tugnui Valley in the Southern Transbaikalia, which was mentioned in the Mongolian Secret Legend, became the location of shooting of “The Steppe Games.” The warlike tribe of Merkits, the ancestors of several modern Buryat tribes, lived here eight centuries ago. But the Steppe is not only a location for shooting. As Bair Dyshenov explains it:“It is a separate, independent, live acting character of the narration.” It is a sacred territory, where the events of the lives of three warriors of the present and the past are unfolded: Bator, a demobilized soldier from the Russian Army, the veteran of the war in Chechnya – Purbe and an unnamed Merkit warrior. Prevailing nowadays “Ultimate Fighting” is delicately opposed to the Code of honor of the Warrior of the Steppe of the ancient times. From the other hand, it is obvious that hopelessness of existence of today’s young generation, still not determined with life’s priorities, makes it act out of the logic of common sense.


In the prologue we get acquainted with all of the heroes: we find critically wounded young Buryat warrior, who is trying to hold bridle with all his might. The horse rider dies, and his horse starts its long and hard way back home. It “carries” the sad message about the death of the master. Briefly we get acquainted with the shepherd – the father of the dead archer. And here is a cart of the Merkit princess, who is accompanied by her fiancé and the loyal nukers (warrior-guards). A sound cart with the sleeping Purbe is moving slowly. And finally, our attention is directed at Bator – a demobilized soldier of the Russian Army in full feather. He easily jumps down from the ferry and confidently steps on his native Steppe land. His friends in foreign cars rush to take the good soldier to a café. The noise of the car, passing by, shook off the Uncle Purbe’s drowsiness: curiosity excites him, what turmoil broke the silence of the beloved Steppe. Bator greets the veteran without stopping, and one of the guys is teasing him: “Uncle Purbe, without balls!” The elderly commando really can not have children due to a missile wound.



In the meantime the return of Bator is noisily celebrated in the café. There is vodka and light snacks on the table. Several guys and one girl are at the table. This girl was the one who delivered Bator the sad message: today his beloved Altana is marrying a rich guy from Moscow. Bator is intent on doing his best to get back his girlfriend. Having hidden among gigantic boulders of the Steppe heights, a symbolic fortification of Altana’s farmstead, Bator is observing the wedding preparations. And the wedding dress was brought in.


As for the princess, she is happy and serene in her cart, the Steppe is quiet and it seems that nothing can hinder her journey.


It is nowadays. One of the brothers of Altana – the giant Maksar – is driving a minivan and singing a soulful song. One can see that he feels very good. Suddenly, Maksar notices Purbe’s cart, but without Purbe. Oh, it occurs that someone has hurt Purbe, he is sitting on a log on the roadside and cries bitterly. Maksar gives him a bottle of water, Purbe starts to shed more tears. Barely, through his tears he utters: “Why our best men die?” And only after the offered vodka, Purbe stands up and gives a newspaper to Maksar, to read it. As for himself, with a grin and the bottle hurriedly goes away from Maksar. The brother of Altana is reading the headline: “Ugo Chavez died” and rushes in pursuit of Purbe with fury. But the latter turned to the other side and this way was able to save himself from his benefactor’s anger.

Bator is preparing a romantic message for Altana: he is using the bark of a tree as a tiny raft, which along the water channel should carry tiny steppe flowers to the girl.


At the farmstead there is turmoil, a faithful horse has brought the sleeping Purbe. Maksar exposes the veteran to cruel mockeries: in the eyes of all present he lowers a huge cauldron with a snoring drunkard in it, on fire.  The awakened uncle catches an axe to kill Maksar. He is stopped by his wife’s slap. Purbe leaves Altana’s farmstead.



The Merkits come close to the dead warrior-archer’s horse. After it is in a circle of persecutors, their leader Arsalan mounted the horse. The fiancé of the princess – notices the persecutors and goes to fight with one of the opponents. The laws are strictly registered in the Great Steppe, and people obey them strictly. Two warriors – opponents are sorting out their relationship in a single combat against each other, while other persecutors are observing the battle. The bride leaves the cart and mounts her horse. The fight starts. Only two are alive in the Steppe: the girl and Arsalan. He overtakes the princess. The girl, realizing that she can not skip away from him, starts to cry. Gradually her mono-weeping is amplified, is picked up by the Steppe echo, creating a polyphonic effect. The universal lament of the princess clogs the ears of her persecutor, who cannot understand anything. Lost, he is forced to stop the pursuit. It seems to him that the Great Steppe itself is weeping. The weeping transforms into a Steppe song – an anthem to the “Black Horse.” Nothing is left from the bravery of the persecutor. Arsalan turns back. 

This is one of the tremendous scenes in the film, which demonstrates the ability of a Buryat woman to find a way out of any hopeless situation, when it seemed that the rescue was unavailable in principle. At this point, the acquisitive character of weeping comes to mind in the scene, where Uncle Purbe was begging Maksar for vodka. From the other hand, being a witness of the death of all nice warrior-guards of the princess in the abovementioned scene, one starts to reconsider the words of Purbe: “Why our best men die?”


Good-natured at first sight the giant Maksar easily beats the demobilized soldier. Here no laws are obeyed: two other brothers of Altana are holding the soldier, while the big fellow – beats unmercifully. While the brothers are beating the soldier, the veteran of the Chechen war, unable to bear a public shame – a slap from his wife, hangs himself on the bridle of his faithful horse. When the wife of Purbe finds a motionless body of her husband, it takes her time to come to her senses.




In the meantime Bator comes back to the café to his friends, who are enthusiastically are singing a Buryat folk song about a horse in a choir. It seems that they are ready to make a feat, protect all the weak and destitute. Bator tells about his incident with Maksar: “I only wanted to talk to him… Let us ruin the wedding!”


On the way a harsh sorting out of relationship between Bator and Badmaich, the deputy, who is also hurrying to the Steppe wedding, takes place.

A wedding limousine for Altana arrives. On the way to her farmstead, the chic car stops in the middle of the Steppe. Two young Muscovites – the groom with his best man – synchronously rotating around their own axis – generously water the Steppe soil with their own sources.


Bator takes up his favorite observing position between huge boulders. He notices that the groom has finally arrived. The people are exulted. The omnipresent Badmaich detects Bator in his shelter and beats him, while two policemen are holding the guy. Not knowing how to continue the demonstration of his superiority over the soldier, Badmaich shoots Bator’s horse.



During the viewing of the film one involuntarily starts comparing the age-old Code of honor with the nowadays behavioral regulation, which is turned inside out:


● In the Steppe they were aiming at warriors, not their horses earlier. Now – they prefer to shoot the horse, because one will be tried for murder of a person.

● Before, the horse could come back home with a sad message. And now – the horse is killed, and an innocent soldier is sent behind the bars.

● Before, future warriors absorbed the established Code of honor with their mother’s milk. If two are fighting, the rest are observing the course of the battle standing at some distance. Nowadays if the two converge into a single combat, then the others strike a treacherous blow on their backs.

● Before, it was possible to stir the pity of the most terrible enemy. Nowadays they complain in order to drown out the sorrow.

● Before, a girl was the centre of the Great Steppe, she was protected, pampered and cherished for the glory of the native Steppe. Nowadays the girl is obedient to the will of powerful owners of the Steppe, who are in all humility give her to “the bulging purses” from distant spaces. 


Sooner or later, the horse of the dead warrior-Merkit, came home of his owner with sadness. The father of the horseman ritually sprays milk after the horse without the rider, walking away, for that horse rider was killed. As Bair Dyshenov has explained: “That way, a horse is set free. This is a ritual of “Seeing-off the horse.” The white milk is sprinkled on the road, so the way ahead is light.” In this kind and wise folk ritual lies the sense of the director’s message. He wishes his land and fellow countrymen only happiness and kindness.


“The Steppe Games”(“Talyn Naadan”), Buryatkino, 2014, 90 minutes.

Written, directed and produced by Bair Dyshenov

Director of Photography – Gleb Stepanov

Music by Battulga Galmandah

The film features: a Buryat folk song about a horse, a song “The Black Horse,” “A Song of Young Camel-Orphan.”

The roles of the heroes of two epochs were played by:

● The Buryat warrior from the past and the demobilized soldier of the Russian Army – actor Solbon Endonov,

● The persecutor of the Merkit princess and Uncle Purbe – actor Bilicto Dambaev

● The Merkit princess and Altana – actress Bayarma Boboeva

Also starring in the film is:

Maksar, the older brother of Altana – Chimit Dondokov

The wife of Uncle Purbe – Oksana Lodoeva

The Deputy of the People’s Khural Badmaich – Jargal Lodoev

Gulbara Tolomushova, Bishkek

Translator – Nourghiz Chekilova


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