by Marc Glassman.
Mongol. Sergei Bodrov, director and co-script with Arif Aliyev. Starring: Tadanobu Asano (Temudgin, the future Genghis Khan), Honglei Sun (Jamukha), Khulan Chuluun (Borte), Odnyam Odsuren (Young Temudgin), Amadu Mamadakov (Targutai)
My Brother is an only Child. Daniele Luchetti, director and co-script w/Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli. Starring: Riccardo Scamarcio (Manrico), Elio Germano (Accio), Diane Fleri (Francesca)
Mongol is that rarest of treats, a rousing yet intelligent epic. Beautifully shot in the magnificent landscape of Mongolia, with its deserts, rolling hills, flat lands and gorgeous sky, the film transports the viewer to a remote area of the world that has largely maintained its pure, pristine look for the past millennium. It’s the perfect terrain to recount the tale of Genghis Khan, the famed warrior of the 12th century whose grandson conquered all of modern Russia and much of central Europe before finally being turned back to his native Asian steppes.
Though the name of Khan evokes fearful imagery of savage battles and brutal destruction, Russian director Sergei Bodrov’s research has led him to create a kinder, gentler character. Known as Temudgin, this Khan—which means tribal chief—is an amalgam of arrogance, reticence, romanticism and decisiveness. This regal figure is first seen as a 9 year-old, traveling with his father and entourage towards the Merkit tribe, where he is to become betrothed. On the way, they spend the night with a neighbouring clan, and there he meets Borte, who becomes the love of his life.
Deciding to marry Borte instead of a Merkit changes Temudgin’s life forever. When his father dies unexpectedly, another warrior, Targutai, takes over the tribe, forcing the young Temudgin to flee for his life. As an adolescent, Temudgin becomes blood brothers with Jamukha, a good thing as this lad has many enemies, including, of course, the Merkits.
The film’s trajectory is set in these early scenes. Contrasting Temudgin to the violent Merkits and the disloyal Targutai, it becomes easy to identify with the young warrior. When he finally gets into battles, there’s no question who the audience will want to win: it’s Temudgin hands down.
His love for Borte is emphasized as an epic romance and in a nod to 21st century psychology, Temudgin accepts Borte’s illegitimate children—the products of a kidnapping and years of separation—as his own. It’s only when Temudgin must face his blood brother Jamukha in battle that anyone might question the motivations of this first, great Khan.
Sergei Bodrov, whose Chechnya film Prisoner of the Mountains was nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar, has outdone himself in Mongol. A sweeping tale of adventure, battles and passion, the film employed 1000 extras, over 300 crew, hundreds of horses, two cinematographers, two editors and a brilliant Mongolian alt-rock band Altan Urag. Bodrov cast the terrific Japanese star Tadanobu Asano to play Temudgin and the slyly comic Chinese actor Honglei Sun to portray Jamukha. The rest of the cast, including the beautiful Khulan Chuluun are Mongolians—and discoveries for the big screen.
It’s a shame that films with subtitles only attract art house audiences. This film could be a bigger hit—if it was in English with Matt Damon as Temudgin. But Mongol wouldn’t be the same then, would it?
My Brother is an only Child
Set mainly in small towns in Northern Italy during the ‘60s and ‘70s, My Brother is an only Child evokes a time and place of great political and romantic fervour. Violence was in the air as bands of rebellious youths espoused radical solutions to the ills of capitalist society. Communists fought right-wing nationalists on the streets of many cities, including Turin, the only major urban centre where action takes place during the film.
In this time of great upheaval, two brothers clash. Manrico is a charismatic and brilliant speaker, working for the Communists. Accio, his younger brother, longs to be different–so he temporarily embraces Fascism. Francesca is the love of their lives, conducting a passionate romance with Manrico while sparring endlessly with Accio.
My Brother is an only Child is reminiscent of the recent Italian hit Best of Youth, which covered the same time and place, mainly through a tale of two brothers. It’s no surprise that Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, who wrote the script for Best of Youth are involved with this production, as well.
Well played, especially by Elio Germano as the conflicted Accio, this is a pleasing, political melodrama. Funnier and shorter than Best of Youth, which was designed as a 6 hour mini-series, My Brother is an only Child will delight audiences interested or aware of the shifts in Italian politics and popular culture during that time. Anyone else will find this engaging tale more than a bit obscure.