Constance June 24th, 2008
Cross-posted with my LJ. Mongol, the first installment of a Russian trilogy featuring Genghis Khan is currently playing in a single theater here in Manhattan. Go here and here to see trailers, stills and more information. The film is supposed to have a larger release here in the U.S. It had terrific popular and critical reception in Europe.
The best parts:
–The locations, the vistas, the action, the people — none of them are digital. This is all location and real people riding real horses. It does look different, and so much better, I do say.
–The landscape, as one expects, has the leading role in Mongol. You will not be disappointed. Vistas of snow, of arid slopes, green rolling spring grass, doesn’t seem foreign to someone who grew up on the Great Plains, though, no we didn’t have mountains where I grew up. But I did visit the Black Hills, which are really mountains, often on family summer vacations, and the Badlands, in both South Dakota and North Dakota. The Missouri-Platt system meanders through parts of both these states on their way to the Mississippi, so I saw those too on summer vacations. These are true vistas and landscapes, from my own life, and the lives of these characters in
–They drink, they sing, they laugh, they have fun, tell jokes. Sometimes they are very funny. The men getting drunk, singing in the Mongolian throat singing style, in the bonding celebration post a successful battle. At times they sang horse neighing, other times belches and sounds less polite, while getting drunker and drunker.
–The horseback attack with the double swords against a much larger mounted warrior line. The warriors used those sabres like the chariots used razors on their wheel hubs to take out the competition in the Coliseum races in Ben Hur. It was shot from inside the charge, and inside those the tactic was decimating (yes, I intend ‘decimate’ as it should be used), and it was shot from a ground distance, and from above. The viewer saw how a suicide cohort of those riders could devastate, then break up the charge of a much greater force of mounted warriors. This was particularly interesting in that Saturday’s remedy for attempting to hide from the pain meant I’d been reading the section of Sherwood Smith’s King’s Shield in which mounted cohorts, fighiting from horseback play their essential role (goddessa, she writes these scenes so very well!). Thus I couldn’t help but layer this extensive filmic sequence on to Sherwood’s book, and vice versa.
Why I was disappointed:
— It’s ‘impressionist’ some might say. But I wanted more real world connection. For instance, he’s always got the right clothes to wear, blankets, etc. Where did they come from? How did Borte get so rich? Etc. Not having any sense of these very practical matters intruded deeply, in this world protrayed on screen as real.
If characters’ motivation and relationships go missing at the beginning, the missing bits create ever larger story gaps, and that will spin off additional problems as the work progresses — a cascade effect of creative troubles. This is even more so if you began with unnecesary chronological dislocation. This movie is much worth looking at, though you have seen all this in other movies. But it isn’t that good in terms of what matters most to me, and what matters most to me is not battle scenes, though one needs them in this movie, and I certainly want them to be good. And the battled scene are good cinema. They are better than the story that is told.
The moral we take with us, good ladies and gentlemen, is that action by itself, battle scenes alone, are not enough to make a thorougly satisfying work of entertainment.
That is, anyway, if you are me. (Are we confused yet?)