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Mongol 

Proof that larger budgets don’t mean better films is Mongol, Sergei Bodrov’s satisfying epic about the young Genghis Khan, Kazakhstan’s entry in this year’s Academy Awards. Filmed under harsh conditions in China and Kazakhstan on a budget of only $20 million, the film recalls an earlier era that relied on solid storytelling rather than CGI for effects. Legends abound, but not much is actually known about Genghis Khan (“universal ruler”), the 13th-century warrior who united Mongolian tribes and invaded East and Central Asia, becoming emperor of the vast Mongol empire. His legacy is mixed; in some parts of the world he is considered a genocidal warlord, while in China and Mongolia, he is revered as a hero and praised for his fairness and religious tolerance. Bodrov found inspiration in an old Chinese poem about Genghis Khan for the thoughtful script he co-wrote with Arif Aliyev, which dramatizes the early years of Khan, born Temudgin in 1162. The film, the first of a planned trilogy, brings to mind ’70s counterculture Westerns like Little Big Man (think of it as an “Eastern”), without the satiric humor but with an emphasis on character and moral struggle instead of traditional heroics. ***1/2

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