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White Flag

Lesbian couple contends with dark forces in order to forge a living in the remote Mongolian steppe - poignant queer survival drama is in the Official Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Saran (Erdenetsetseg Enkhbayar) lives with her loving partner Naran (Urtnasan Endenebayar) inside a sparsely furnished yurt. There is no sign of civilisation nearby, and no roads leading to their humble dwelling. The two young and beautiful women can only be reached by horse, in the world’s least densely populated country. They seek to enjoy a simple living, herding their animals and cooking for one another. Yet a number of people (all of them men) are keen to interfere with their precariously peaceful existence.

Naran used to live in urban Mongolia (presumably the capital Ulaanbaaatar), until a very tragic and near-fatal episode involving a jealous husband and a potential lover drove her to the drastically different, inhospitable environment. She has a fiery and assertive personality, and she can handle a rifle with great skill and aplomb. She will do everything within her reacg in order to save the relationship with the woman whom she adores. Saran is a lot quieter and far less assertive. She too loves her partner. Her way of demonstrating her allegiance, however, is far more pragmatic. Her approach doesn’t always go down with the explosive Naran. Saran’s bisexuality is a major concern to her staunchly homosexual partner.

Zorig (Samdanpurev Oyunsambuu) is devoted police detective investigating a murder, which could have very serious legal implications for both women (the details of exactly what happened are only revealed in the end of this 96-minute film). Saran uses a particularly intimate currency in order to negotiate their fate with the man (who turns out to be kind and caring). Our three protagonists end up caught up in a complex web of emotions, with deleterious consequences for every single of them. A group of violent thugs on horseback also represent a very real threat: they menacingly circle the yurt and leave a goat’s head at their door. The message is clear: these two women are not welcome, and their life is at risk. What isn’t entirely clear is whether they are seeking revenge for the mysterious murder, or whether they are driven by sheer lesbophobia.

The vast, treeless landscape is a film character per se. It accurately symbolises the intense isolation, vulnerability and beauty of the two female leads. They are trapped inside the love nest that they created for themselves, at the mercy of men of questionable character and a very hostile society. A community that refuses to give them the peace and tranquility which they desperately crave. Swiss cinematographer Lukas Graf uses abundant long shots, and a neutral, light-hued colour palette in order to emphasise these sentiments.

The Lesbian kissing scenes are very moving, and presumably groundbreaking for an Asian country with virtually no tradition in LGBT+ cinema. Mongolian director and screenwriter Batbayar Chogsom is based in Switzerland, which might explain his candid approach to the depiction of homosexuality. The final scene, in which Naran’s resorts to an epically cathartic solution, is both emotionally and visually ravishing. As mesmerising, poetic depiction of a desperate woman seeking reparation, and to salvage the relationship to another woman to whom she is viscerally attached.

White Flag just premiered in the Official Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 17-11-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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