TRIO (leave no one behind)

With few words, this Mongolian film makes an eloquent plea for empathy and human dignity

Director: Battumur Dorj

Writers: Battumur Dorj, Altangerel Oyunsaikran

‘ fascinating… exquisitely photographed …’

MONGOLIA: 96 mins: CTC: 4/5

Mongolia is a land that’s only rarely featured on our screens – one such film being the earlier, celebrated, The Story of the Weeping Camel (2004). Trio, directed and co-written by Battumur Dorj, gives us an equally fascinating look at a remote, indigenous family and the sort of semi-nomadic lifestyle they have lived for generations. Like Weeping Camel, this docudrama has rich cultural insights but its focus is on its central character and his value as a human being with Down Syndrome. He has a gentle, disarming nature, similar to that of Zac (with the same condition) in The Peanut Butter Falcon, which was a hit in the Perth Lotterywest International Film Festival in 2019.

Trio opens in winter, with the vast, harsh landscape wearing a mantle of snow and ice. Inside their traditional circular Yurt, the adult son still lives with his aging mother. In a heart-breaking flashback scene, in the film’s only instance of discrimination on account of his condition, we see the man as a young boy, with his mother trying to enrol him in school and being denied. ‘Is it contagious?’ asks one parent, anxiously. But, in his home environment, he is a valuable member of the family and, though Trio is obviously a clarion call to treat such people empathetically, Dorj rigorously avoids sermonising and lets his film (exquisitely photographed by Battulga Gonchigsuren) speak for itself.

While almost every aspect of Mongolian life is different to ours, it is striking to see the traditions and customs that bind different communities together. At this time, a world-wide audience has just witnessed the burial of Queen Elizabeth ll with all the complex and exacting rituals that have originated centuries earlier. The Mongolian burial rituals seen in Trio, involving prayers, music, food and much more, have also been carried on for many generations.Though vastly dissimilar to those of the British monarch, they are fascinating and just as elaborate and rigidly performed.

With an entirely authentic cast, Trio moves at an unhurried, meditative pace and with a minimum of dialogue. As for the Down Syndrome man - in one of the film’s most poignant moments of deep grief, he performs alone, and every fibre of his body tells us he’s in the film, not because of his condition, but because he’s a fine actor. In his silence, he makes an earnest plea, not for sympathy but for acceptance as a valued human being, able to contribute, to the best of his ability, as well as any person. It’s a deeply humanitarian message.

phil 24.09.22.

Trio was an entrant in the Thai International Film Festival, recently concluded. For one night only, Trio will screen at Burswood Community Cinema (outdoor) in Perth, Australia.