Kazakhstan-produced film Mongol was nominated last year for a Best Foreign Language film Oscar, and since I haven’t seen a film coming from an ex-Soviet country in a long while, this was a very pleasant surprise! Though I do understand many Mongolians might complain about the story being filled with historical inaccuracies (but, hey, this is fiction!) and Genghis himself being played by a Japanese actor (!), this was a wonderful cinematic experience to me. Here are some of the random reasons:
- The screenplay saves the “punch line” for the very last minute. Although the film is announced as re-enacting parts of the famous Mongol leader’s Genghis Khan life and ascension to power, including his time as a tortured prisoner at 9 years old and afterwards as a slave, you only find this in one of the very last frames. Until then, this is only the story of Temujin, a character whose destiny develops in late 1100s. That is a nice and innovative twist to the narrative. Attempting to cover all of Genghis' reign as a Mongol emperor would have been obviously too much for a 2-hour screening.
- How the monk enacts one of Hannah Arendt’s theories on the way totalitarian regimes work through self-fulfilling prophecies – reality is shaped so as to become the prophecy and future potentialities are organizing present action (see part three from The Origins of Totalitarianism).
- How the sights are captured on film. You almost wouldn’t believe this is a low-budget judging by how the large spaces of the “stepa mongola” are filmed – the colors, the filming angles, the faces etc.
- How the battle scenes are rendered on screen. Though I’m definitely not a big fan of war movies, I believe the battle scenes in this one would make a connoisseur gaze with admiration. Again, this proves that the film can easily compete with any Hollywood production of the kind, though its budget is probably less than half.