“If only I could hibernate”: the filmed story of a Mongolian teenager's struggle for success

“If only I could hibernate”: the filmed story of a Mongolian teenager's struggle for success

Movies

Long supported by the Soviet Union, Mongolian cinematography has since redeployed its co-production support with other regions, such as Europe or Asia, and has recently revealed a hotbed of young female directors, as was the case for Byambasuren Davaa ( The Story of the Weeping Camel , 2003; The Yellow Dog of Mongolia , 2005), based in Germany, and still today with Zoljargal Purevdash, trained in Japan. His first feature film, shown at Cannes in 2023 in the Un Certain Regard category, evokes the rural exodus and the difficult integration of nomadic populations who come to the city to find work.

If only I could hibernate opens, in this respect, with a striking contrast: this interzone on the borders of Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, where yurts cluster together like escapees from the steppe and so many families who have come to try their chance. In one of them Ulzii, the eldest of four children, lives with an overwhelmed mother who is struggling to make ends meet and buy enough coal to heat the lodge. However, the big brother is strong in math, ahead of his class, and his teacher would like to see him compete in the Science Olympiads, in order to win a higher education scholarship. When the mother, at the end of her resources, is forced to return to the village with the youngest child, she decides to stay and burn, even if it means taking care of her brother and sister, who are at school.

Tradition of the meritocratic myth

If Only I Could Hibernate then tells the story of the guerrilla economy that Ulzii sets up to fulfill all his responsibilities, where every penny counts. The film is first and foremost, and quite simply, for the window it opens onto Mongolia’s urban side, with its wide frames, its views of the city, its attention to places, to the details of daily life, to the harsh accents of the Mongolian language. But this realistic vocation is largely undermined by the applied slope of a positive story which completely follows, in terms of dramatic momentum, the framework of the competition.

A candidate for success, Ulzii exploits all his resources, intellectual and physical, to climb the ladder, in the purest tradition of the meritocratic myth. This “good student” character, the very type of the successful hero, has the dramatic function of making the misery of the characters more presentable, of blending a complex subject into a feel-good horizon. In this alone, the film coincides with its protagonist: skillful, calculating, he himself behaves like a competition beast, cut out entirely to attract the attention of international festivals.

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