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Close to Eden
(Urga)
France/Soviet Union - 1991
Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov


This French and Russian co-production is set in contemporary times on the Steppes of Inner Mongolia.  Close to Eden provides a fascinating anthropological glimpse into a vanishing way of life. 

Gombo and Pagma are a husband and wife who live on the Steppes with their three children and a grandmother.  The Chinese government has made an exception to the "one child" rule that applies to the rest of China, and allows families within the ethnic Mongolian minority to have two children.  With three children already, Pagma knows that her third child will be disadvantaged,  denied school and other government services.  She is determined not to have another child and asks her husband to buy condoms.  Gombo discusses the matter with his local lama, who doesn't offer any advice, other that to say that he, too, has problems and that they should pray together.

Serguie, a Russian truck driver falls asleep at the wheel and finds himself stuck in the Steppes.  Pagma helps him and brings him home to the yurt.  Serguie is gregarious and friendly and is well received in the home.   A subtle social commentary is woven into the fabric of the film, enough to let the viewer know that these are contemporary people, coping with the changing socio-economic landscape in the wake of the USSR's dissolvement.  One impressive scene is an hallucination experienced by Gombo as he brings home a television set for the family.  He sees a vision of his ancient ancestor, Ghengis Khan, there to warn him against modern ways.

The film is slow paced, but never dull.  The wonderful cinematography of featureless plains provide endless vistas for the camera.  Nikita Mikhalkov won  the Nika Award for Best Director (1992) as well as the Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival (1991).  Close to Eden received numerous nominations, including nominations for Best Foreign Language Film - Russia from both the Academy and the Golden Globe (1993).

Runtime:  2 hours

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