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'Mongol' Shows Softer Side of Genghis Khan

New America Media, News Report, Brittany Owens Posted: Jun 06, 2008

Editor's Note: Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov uncovers a love story in the life of conqueror Genghis Khan, but the film lacks cohesion and power, writes New America Media contributor Brittany Owens.

As a child in the former Soviet Union, Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov first read about Genghis Khan in history class.

Russians lived under Mongolian rule for around 200 years, Bodrov notes. In our schoolbooks, Genghis Khan was portrayed as a monster. The books were products of the time, and the depictions were pretty awful and simplistic.

In his historical, three-part film Mongol, Bodrov illuminates a softer side of Khan. Mongol is the untold story of Khan, whose real name was Temudjin. Bodrov humanizes Khan, showing him as an inspiring, fearless and visionary leader.
bodrovFilmmaker Sergei Bodrov discusses his vision for Mongol.Much of the movie also focuses on the relationship Temudjin has with his wife, Borte Ujin, whom he chooses at the delicate age of nine.

She was a close advisor towards the end of his life, Bodrov says. He stumbles to find the words in English to describe Temudjins complicated relationship with Borte, played by Khulan Chuluun one of the leading Mongolian actors of the day. The adult Temudjin is played by celebrated Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano.

I decided to make this movie because his love story was an unknown story, Bordov says.

The film opens on the early years of Temudjins life, as a child growing up with his father, known as The Great Khan of the desert of Mongolia. His father is killed by deception and from there, a series of shallow wars are waged against Temudjin and his family.

After Temudjins family is brutally attacked, he runs away, becomes an orphan, is captured, rescued, captured again and finally returns to his bride some years after his initial promise. Temudjin gives her a wishbone, a keepsake that she keeps with her until their final departure -- another battle over futile circumstances.

The romance between Temudjin and Borte was a dramatic starting point for the film. At its core, it is the tale of two individuals from different sides of warring tribes who fall in love -- picture Shakespearean tragedy on the plains of Mongolia.

Though Bodrov wanted to find a way into Genghis Khans inner world, the focus on the romance between Temudjin and Borte detracted from the larger biography of Khan. What love story doesnt face great opposition? What great man doesnt have a partner as their solid foundation? It would have been more interesting to keep the focus on Khans military prowess and uncover his personality through this lens.

Filming took place over two years and across three countries - Japan, Russia and Kazakhstan. Bodrov filmed in the very lands that gave birth to Genghis Khan.

Temudjin is a special case in Mongolia. His name was forbidden for 70 years because it was a Soviet state, the filmmaker says.

Mongol was filmed by two cinematographers over the period of two years. The first year of the film Rogier Stoffers ran the camera. This job was taken over by Sergei Trofimov for the second half and this disjunction in vision is clear.

What Bodrov calls, astounding work lacks in actual visual presence. The first half of the film is filled with beautiful scenes of the vast landscape that Khan travels. You never know exactly where he is throughout the movie, yet the film captures the sense of movement. But then the second half of the film turns vague. The different parts of the film do not come together as a whole.

The poor visual work in a movie filmed in some of the most glorious landscapes in the world was disappointing. Maybe I was expecting too much from Genghis Khan, maybe I thought he would live up to his title of extraordinary ruler. Maybe Bodrov thought he would deliver a timeless tale to Mongolian people, but the movie falls short.

Bodrov said there is no connection between the release of Mongol and the current influence of Asian power in the world, specifically the rise of China as a superpower.

Genghis Khan is a different person. It wasnt about power, like it is now, says Bodrov. His wars were not about religion, he was a very tolerant ruler. There was absolutely everyone in the army.

Perhaps the true failure was trying to understand the complexity of Genghis Khan and parse it into a simple narrative. To the Mongols of old, Temudjin was many things, first the boy and man, then Genghis Khan, the ruler and leader, and the most powerful shaman for his people.

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