September 15, 2008


"Mongol" (James Bowman, 9/15/2008, American Spectator)

Longtime readers will know that I am a skeptic about the possibilities of epic cinema. Epic and movies sort ill together, since the one is a heroic medium and the other is a realistic one. The art of combining a "high" style -- like that of epic poetry -- with the sort of realism suited to the movies seems to me to have eluded film-makers, at least since John Ford shot his last Western. But Sergei Bodrov's Mongol has made a believer out of me. He has managed to find a cinematic equivalent of the paratactic style appropriate to epic, where one declarative statement follows another, and one event follows another, without any significant degree of authorial or grammatical intervention to explain or rationalize the relationship between them. Sentences are simple or compound, rarely complex, and the same is true of the visual sentences in Mr. Bodrov's film.

He tells the story of the Mongol leader Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) -- later to be known as Genghis Khan -- as a series of picturesque defeats followed, after the worst defeat of all -- by an amazing victory in which the future emperor appears to be assisted by divine intervention. That's got to be the hardest thing of all to portray on film, by the way, and I would say is not quite successfully represented even here. But Mr. Bodrov has prepared the ground for the divine lightning bolts perhaps as well as it can be prepared -- partly by means of the film's general visual magnificence and partly by the sense of mystery naturally conveyed by the movie's narrative style.

For the secret of his success is his ability to use the camera to moralize these wonderful Central Asian landscapes.

...but Mr. Bowman is one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2008 8:01 AM
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