If Only I Could Hibernate review – a teenager faces tough choices in chilly Mongolia

<span>Battsooj Uurtsaikh as Ulzii in If Only I Could Hibernate.</span><span>Photograph: Conic Films</span>
Battsooj Uurtsaikh as Ulzii in If Only I Could Hibernate.Photograph: Conic Films

It’s the kind of story that crops up fairly regularly on the world cinema and film festival circuit: an academically gifted teenager from a desperately poor background must choose between his future and shelving his studies to help support his siblings. But the Mongolian drama If Only I Could Hibernate, written and directed by Zoljargal Purevdash, brings an earthy, lived-in authenticity to a premise that, in other hands, could feel like a piece of ethnographic voyeurism.

Stroppy, obnoxious and extremely teenaged, Ulzii (Battsooj Uurtsaikh) has little patience for his brow-beaten, widowed and illiterate mother (Ganchimeg Sandagdorj). When she gets a job in the countryside, he decides to stay in the family’s yurt on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar shouldering the responsibility for his two younger siblings, as well as studying for a prestigious physics exam. But as the temperature drops, the pressure on Ulzii mounts.