Director: Sergei Bodrov
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun, Odnyam Odsuren
Runtime: 126 mins
Rating: * * *
Aside from the nice Borat-ism of a film put forward to represent Kazakhstan at the Academy Awards for ‘Best Foreign Language film’ proclaiming women as less important than horses, Mongol is a competent positive portrayal of Genghis Khan’s youth and rise to power.
Funded by German, Russian and Kazakh companies, and using Chinese actors speaking in the Mongolian language (badly, according to Mongolian critics), the film reflects both the diversity of the Khan’s empire and is symbolic of the cultural renaissance in eastern European and Asian cinema.
The rehabilitation of Genghis Khan seems a little strained at times: historical events that demonstrated the protagonist’s brutality are flagrantly skipped in favour of showing him spending some time praying to the Wolf God, and the idea of violence as enacted through strict social protocol being superior to general barbarism is frequently presented.
The portrayal of women, too, is interesting. Though still within binds that enforce marriage at a young age, Temudjin (aka Genghis Khan, Tadanobu Asano) is rescued by his wife, praises her strength of will and, cuckolded by tribal conflict and the capture of his wife, accepts as his own a child that is clearly not his. Temudjin is shown to unite disparate, immoral peoples through autocracy and nepotism.
Regardless of the bastardised Mongolian spouted by the actors and the almost comical characterisations of Khan’s enemies, performances are stellar on the whole. The story’s drive doesn’t collapse at any point with the cinematography, as one now expects of Chinese film and of pictures in the historical biography genre, standing out as particularly excellent.
There’s just that feeling, though, that what you’re being offered is simplistic and diluted.