Roger L. Simon

Movie Review: Sergei's Mongolian Western

Sergei Bodrov – the Russian director – who has been my friend since we served together on the jury of a film festival in Siberia (see “The Celluloid Archipelago” here) has a movie called “Mongol” nominated for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar this year. This is actually Sergei’s second foreign film nomination, a remarkable feat shared only by people with names like Fellini. But if you check his wikipedia entry, you will see this man has also had great tragedy in his life.

I caught “Mongol” – a biopic of Genghis Khan – at a cast and crew screening in Westwood last night. As an Oscar voter, I have been remiss this year in seeing all the necessary movies (PJM keeps me busy), but of those I have seen only two have held my attention as films I might want to see again – Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Mongol”.

“Mongol” is a Mongolian Western derivative of Ford and Kurosawa with a surprisingly positive vision of Genghis Khan. Not being up on my Central Asian history, I checked the wikipedia entry on Khan after seeing the movie and it seems to adhere to the rough outline of his life, with some possible exaggeration of his romantic relationship with his wife Borte, giving the exotic “Mongol” something of the feeling of a Hollywood film. For this reason I predict that the relatively snobby Academy (especially in the foreign film area) will not give it the Oscar nod. But who knows?

For that same reason, however, of action adventure flare, “Mongol” is getting wide US theatrical distribution in June. Try to catch it. For the fascinating Mongolian faces and folkways (and a haunting ethnic score) alone it is certainly worth your time. But be aware: This is about Genghis Khan and is filled with blood and guts. It is not for the faint hearted. Walking out of the theater, Sheryl and I were transfixed by one thing above all – what soft existences we modern men and women have. What I told Sergei, while shaking his hand in congratulations for a job well done, is that his film has convinced me I have lived a boring life.