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Sunday, July 06, 2008

I saw MONGOL again and Phillip got to see it, too!

Last December at Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9, the annual film festival in Austin, Texas, the big breakout hit of the entire show was easily Mongol. Sergei Bodrov directed, co-wrote and co-produced, and collaborated with a crew from over forty countries to produce this vast epic about the early life of Temujin... who history would remember as Genghis Khan.

Even before I had left Texas, my good friend Phillip Arthur had expressed some envy that I got to see Mongol waaaaay before its wide release. Well, ever since then I've been keeping an eye out for that, 'cuz I vowed that I'd see Mongol again and that next time it would be with Phillip. Last week it finally came out in Greensboro (at the Grande at Friendly Center). I shot Phillip an e-mail about it and we quickly made plans to see it the next evening. That's what we did on Thursday night and now that he's posted his review of it I'll add some more thoughts about Mongol.

The first thing you'll notice about Mongol is the photography. Shot in Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, the vast steppes of twelfth-century Asia are some of the most beautiful images in modern cinema. This is the turbulent landscape that we find the young Khan - spelled "Temudjin" in the subtitles - who from the moment his father dies is beaten and forged by fate and tradition into the one who would unite the Mongols into the largest empire of world history. Indeed, the geography of Mongol is as much a character as those who dwell on it, and Bodrov is sumptuous with his treatment of the land and its climate.

Genghis Khan's name is one that to this day has provoked fear and dread. But his portrayal by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano is perhaps one of the most noble of any recent biography. The Temudjin of Mongol is not the bloodthirsty tyrant who eventually brought despair to the frontier of Russia, but is instead an honorable and decent man. He is a loving husband and father to his children, who by birth and circumstance has had a destiny thrust upon him. Phillip and I talked after the movie about how Bodrov's treatment of Temudjin is almost like a combination of William Wallace from Braveheart and Conan the Barbarian. And then toward the end of the movie, when Temudjin sets out to impose law and discipline on a people run amok, he become very much like a Moses figure.

The battles are intense, well-choreographed and unrelentingly brutal so far as graphic depictions go. Tuomas Kantelinen's score is amazingly beautiful and haunting: I don't know if this soundtrack is available, but I'm bound and determined to find a copy somewhere. All of this and more supplements the fine acting from the cast, which at times moves the viewer to laughter and tears and everything in between. I don't know why, but I have to say that I enjoyed Mongol even more the second time than I did the first... and I loved it already the first time. It's easily among the top five new movies that I've watched this past year.

Mongol comes out on DVD this September. But if you can possibly do so, you really should watch this movie the way it deserves to be seen: on a big wide screen in a darkened theater, with hopefully lots of other people to discover the majesty of Mongol with.