Movie Reviews
9:47 am
Mon June 23, 2008

Mongol

Bodrov has it both ways.

To have conquered half the world would be an epic feat?Genghis Khan did just that. Mongol, the award-winning film from Russia's Sergei Bodrov, depicts the early life of Temudgin from 9 in 1172 to the decisive battle in 1206 that made him the supreme Khan and a legend matched only by Alexander the Great.

For all the dazzling cinematography of Kazakhstan and Inner Mongolia, for all the jaw-dropping battle scenes with thousands of barbarian horsemen and their charismatic leaders, nothing quite surpasses the intimate scenes between the benevolent leader and his "brothers" and more impressively between the husband and his aggressive wife, Borte, who was his closest friend and peerless advisor. The sweep is epic, but the emphasis is on character.

Only Gladiator's Maximus (Russell Crowe) comes to mind for recent depictions of complicated warriors (and maybe William Wallace?Mel Gibson?from Braveheart).

As he did in the mystical Bear's Kiss, Bodrov succeeds in having it both ways: humanity on display through the arcs of dynamic characters and inhumanity exposed with a backdrop of life's big issues and the tyranny of fate and death. Peppered with the mystical paganism such as the fear of thunder as a manifestation of God, Mongol seems to treat almost every important part of 12th-13th century barbarian life. The quotidian is just as interesting as the sublime?witness the importance of securing a wife with strong legs both for following a husband and making love. Although misogynistic, the society protects and reveres its wives as precious commodities.

From costumes to climate, Bodrov catches the visual beauty of Central Asia, its unforgiving terrain, and the fierce warrior Mongols, who could at any time choose whom to follow, and did.

Despite the epic nature of the film, I was just as moved by the young nine-year old selecting his bride with the wisdom (and her help) of a world-class leader. Bodrov doesn't overplay the potential greatness; he just accentuates the lad's common sense and reservoir of love. Bodrov doesn't so much create an oversized hero as he depicts a gifted man with a vision of how Mongols should act according to laws, simple ones, that he could create. And did.