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Beside a heaving sea of crumbling pack-ice, two men swaddled to the point of immobility in layer upon layer of skins and furs, do battle with lances ten-feet long. A boy crawls with uncanny speed along a stony, windswept beach towards an unsuspecting colony of seals. Thus Spotted Dog... introduces us to a relentless world beyond our imaginings, where the rites of passage into manhood are a question of life and death.

This spine-chilling hymn to wild, natural splendour looks like a superbly shot nature documentary, but is actually a work of fiction, a labour of love, shot over 10 years. Based on a novella of the same title (by the gifted and controversial Soviet Kirghjiz writer, Chingiz Aitmantov), the film is unsparing, as its elemental fix on sex, death, supreme humanism and sacrifice, transports the viewer into a harsh and thrilling world of icy exoticism.

On a frozen and forbidding shoreline — north of Japan, on the edge of the Arctic — live the Nyvkh people, whose austere life is a daily struggle for survival. Eleven-year-old Kirisk is on his first expedition, which will mark his transformation from a boy to a man, hunter and breadwinner.