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In 1918 a simple Mongolian herdsman escapes to the hills after brawling with a western capitalist fur trader who cheats him. In 1920 he helps the partisans fight for the Soviets against the occupying army. However he is captured when the army tries to requisition cattle from the herdsmen at the same time as the commandant meets with the reincarnated Grand Lama. After being shot, the army discovers an amulet that suggests he was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. They find him still alive, so the army restores his health and plans to use him as the head of a Mongolian puppet regime. Written by
I loved this movie - it takes a good silent film to keep me glued to the screen, many Silents have huge amounts of frenetic studio-bound talking heads, but of course we have to wait for the titles to see what has just been said.
Other reviewers have laid the premise of this one but as a Russian film lover and trying anything I come across (this DVD, just £3!!) and expecting propaganda and heavy symbolism, I had a tour de force of both Mongolian and Buddhist life, but far from being a National Geographic documentary, this had real passionate pizazz and incredible, often beautiful locations, with long-lost ancient rituals and occasions coming alive on the screen.
I think it unfair to criticise and thus mark down a film because of the style and way it was made, at the time - this is 1928, the film stock and prints has degraded and the technical aspects made for slightly sped-up and jaunty action, whilst almost all the huge casts would have been local amateurs.
However, what made it for me was the music - brilliantly (and I believe, the original choice overseen by the director just before his death, in the 50s) - the crisp stereo really prickling the senses and the variety - from strident symphonies to traditional music from the locations in the film, all perfectly matched to the action. So, when some of the strangest looking tube-like horns get blown by long bearded Mongolians, we get a strange sounding instrument, not an artificially contrived one. This might sound a minor point but for me, from the outset, it really put me in the mood and set me up for the duration.
So - whilst many of the rather turgid Silent dramas are rather hard work and there's a sense of relief when they finally end, this was pure pleasure all the way through. Put to one side any preconceived notions about communist regimes and heavy Soviet symbolism and enjoy this much lighter and enjoyable classic. (It IS critically considered a Classic, actually and not just my say so or opinion)
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