Berlinale Blog – Buddhist Noir: Honeygiver Among the Dogs

     |    Thursday, der 16. February 2017

By Andrew Horn

What caught my attention about Dechen Roder’s detective film, “Honeygiver Among The Dogs” (Bhutan 2017) was that it was described as “Buddhist noir”. But is this some real thing, or just some pressbook buzzword? Thinking about it, the phrase made me think of some kind of trippy concept out of early Firesign Theater. After seeing the film, I’d say it might be some mix of all of the above and if I were to relate the film to an American film noir aesthetic, I might name the movie “Fall, Or Was Pushed”.

It begins like a police procedural, with a policeman named Kingley given an undercover assignment to track down the suspect in the death of an abbess of a country monastery. A witness says he saw a nun named Choden push the woman off a cliff. A local woman says that Choden is a demon, though her daughter insists that she is her friend.

Disguised as a villager, Kingley plants himself at a roadside inn expecting Choden to pass through there on her way to escape the area. He makes contact and allows himself to be “seduced” into helping her get to the nearby city undetected. Only later do we start to wonder if in fact it’s a case of the hunter getting captured by the prey. There is however no proof, just Kingley’s eerie feeling and the beginnings of a series of strange dreams as they make their way through the woods. As Kingley tries to ingratiate himself with her, he finds that any attempt to get information only results in her telling an old fable that may or may not metaphorically answer his question. And each time she tells it she does so with a succession of variations.

And this is where the noir part starts to kick in. When they get to the city, Choden claims she is being followed by two mysterious men and suddenly disappears. When Kingley reports to his captain, he is ordered to lay off the case. The captain is afraid Kingley is being “bewitched” by Choden and is no longer reliable. Of course Kingley does not lay off.

But as he goes digging, records he needs go missing, the witness confesses to having been bribed, and it now seems that a certain key document might not even exist. Now Kingley is wondering if Choden’s riddles, and his dreams, aren’t actually a message being revealed. Does the captain’s use of the word “bewitched” mean something more than feminine wiles? And could it be that Kingley is not her actual target? Each time we think we are at the point of the great unraveling, we find yet another layer to the mystery. The question of Choden’s guilt is starting to become overshadowed by the greater question of what crime was actually committed.

Given the location, cultural context, and a meditative sense of pace, “Honeygiver Among The Dogs” might seem, on the surface, outside the laws of the urban hard boiled detective genre. Yet at the same time it confronts us with the same kind of mystery and existential doubt that makes noir, well… noir.