The movie is an epic story of a young Genghis Khan and how events in his early life lead him to become a legendary conqueror. The 9-year-old Temüjin is taken on a trip by his father to select a girl as his future wife. He meets Börte, who says she would like to be chosen, which he does. He promises to return after five years to marry her. Temüjin's father is poisoned on the trip, and dies. As a boy Temüjin passes through starvation, humiliations and even slavery, but later with the help of Börte he overcomes all of his childhood hardships to become one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever known.

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Mongol is a film about the trials of Temudjin, the young man who became Genghis Khan, ruler of Mongolia and a great Eurasian empire. Although born heir to the Khanate, Temudjin loses his father at the age of nine and undergoes a terrible ordeal in the next two decades of his life, being hunted, imprisoned and narrowly escaping death on a number of occasions. He remains stoical and resilient through the most terrible of hardships, including being placed in shackles as a young boy whilst execution hangs over his head. Alongside these trials of misery there develops a moving love story. Just before his father's death, the nine-year-old Temudjin chose Borte, a young girl from a neighbouring tribe, to be his future bride. After repeated escape and re-capture, the grown-up Temudjin comes back to claim his bride. Throughout the continuing hardship that follows, Borte and Temudjin remain steadfast to one another. When Borte is captured by the Merkits, a hostile tribe of mask-wearing warriors, Temudjin looks for assistance to rescue her from their clutches. This introduces us to his brother Jamukha. Drunken, garrulous and theatrical, Jamukha is a show-stealing presence, and later becomes the almost comic-book villain whom Temudjin must defeat to become Khan of Mongolia. The dialogue in Mongol is spare and one senses that some subtlety has been lost in translation. Yet it is the landscapes and the incredible action sequences that make this film such a success. The cinematography is simply brilliant, drinking in the breathtaking Mongolian landscape, with its vast green plains, soaring mountain peaks and unending expanses of thick winter snow. Erratic weather causes sudden torrents of rainfall, and when fork lightning and thunderclaps rupture the sky you can understand why the Mongolians worship a God of the sky. The brutal medieval battles are among the many highlights, culminating in the great clash between Temudjin and Jamukha's armies, which hinges on a dramatic intervention. Sergei Bodrov's film is fascinating for its observation of Mongolian customs and the respect that these were accorded at the time. The offerings exchanged by travellers, the wrestling, the nomadic way of life: all of these feel remarkably authentic. Many Mongolians have criticised the use of non-Mongolian actors to play most of the major parts, claiming that the accents sound ridiculously out of place, but this is not something that will affect Western ears. I am also a big fan of Tuomas Kantelinen's soundtrack, a combination of orchestral score, chanting and some modern (rock and electronic) touches. Mongol has also been criticised for the overwhelmingly sympathetic portrayal of the man reckoned by many to be one of the great mass-murderers. The film is apparently based on a thirteenth-century Mongolian account of the Khan's early life, which helps to explain director Sergei Bodrov's less-than-impartial treatment of his subject, but I can understand the unapologetic tone of the film, the first in a projected trilogy: this is a film about Temudjin's rise to power, a battle against tremendous odds, which surely deserves some sympathetic treatment. I can only hope that Bodrov is willing to acknowledge the darker chapters of Temudjin's life when shooting the sequels. Hopefully it will not take another four years to ready part two of this brilliant saga.

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