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Mujaan (2005)

On the distant steppes of Mongolia, using only simple tools, strength and ingenuity, a nomad builds a home much the way his ancestors have for the past one thousand years. Mujaan (The ... See full summary »


Christopher McKee




Credited cast:
Altangerel Altangerel
Sukhbaatar Sukhbaatar


On the distant steppes of Mongolia, using only simple tools, strength and ingenuity, a nomad builds a home much the way his ancestors have for the past one thousand years. Mujaan (The Craftsman) is a vivid window to a disappearing way of life in one of the most remote corners of the world. Written by Chris McKee

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Plot Keywords:

nomad | mongolia | architecture | See All (3) »





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Release Date:

24 January 2005 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

Inner Mongolia, China

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User Reviews

Building a traditional house on the Mongolian steppes
12 June 2005 | by DeeNine-2See all my reviews

Mujaan is a Mongolian craftsman who builds round homes called "gir" mainly from wood and sheep's wool. Chris KcKee's film shows in exquisite detail how this is done. There is almost no dialogue and very few subtitles. Everything is visual. From the windswept steppes (now in verdant summer green) to the big sky to the flies and blades of grass in the valley that cradles the craftsman as he works, McKee lets the events speak for themselves. The idea is to show the ingenuity and artistry of a people.

The film works on three levels. First there is the subject at work with hand axe and improvised mallet doing the construction. We see moving snapshots of him at various stages as the house is being built. Additionally we see the herds of sheep and the characteristic little horses of the Mongols. There are some examples of what is eaten and how the food is prepared. There is roasted marmot stuffed with garlic and hot rocks and there are dumplings of lamb. We see a man and child playing at a game with sheep's bones used as dice. We see Sukhbaatar, who is the craftsman, playing a sing-song game with the buyer of the house, a game that might be called "how many fingers?" as they try to guess how many fingers they will display together--zero to ten.

On another level McKee shows us how the various tableaux are painted in the traditional Mongolian artistic style called "Mongol Zurag" which emphasizes people in a landscape existing at the same time with no one at the center. There is no sky and no perspective, as opposed to, for example, the Taoist style in which people are seen small against great mountains and high sky. McKee shows the brush strokes of the artist at work painting the craftsman while his camera shows the craftsman at work. The effect is to blend craftsmanship with art, to show humans as builders and painters who demonstrate their appreciation of the natural world through their work. There is an irony here since the Mongols under the infamous Chingis Khan are better known historically for their ability to destroy and plunder. But of course all peoples both build and destroy.

The third level is McKee's camera and how it captures a way of life. Although I can see the dung flies and imagine the cold winter winds to come, right now all is idyllic. One senses a unity of humans with their herd animals, each dependent upon the other. In the most striking sequence of the film we see Mujaan take one of his herd and gently, but firmly turn the animal on its back on his lap, and with a very sharp knife lay open the sheep's belly. It is almost an embrace, it is so lovingly done. I am reminded of how the lion licks its prey after the killing and before the eating as though in loving ritual. And then the man reaches into the abdominal cavity of the sheep and pulls out the beating heart and stills it with his hands. In the background intermittently are examples of Mongolian music, some of the lyrics sung by Sukhbaatar.

In a commentary included on the DVD archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball explains that in this manner the animal is not drained of blood, but instead the nutrients in the blood stay in the meat giving it a robust and gamey favor much appreciated by the nomadic people.

Comparing this film with the PBS documentary in which Julia Roberts appeared and the Globe Trekker production, both about the Mongols of the steppes, I have to say that Chris McKee's film, while shorter (about 25 minutes) is much more affecting, probably because it is a carefully composed work of art that goes beyond the merely descriptive.

Included with the DVD is a booklet with the Mongol Zurag painting on the cover, and inside are some suggested lessons to accompany the showing of the film in the classroom.

Bottom line: I was mesmerized by the artistry of McKee's technique and the way he used the various elements to tell his story, the story of building a shelter against the coming winds, a family's home made from materials at hand, a home that can be taken down and moved as the herds move to new grass, and put up again, the centerpiece of a nomadic way of life that has existed for millennia, a way of life that will soon be gone...captured on film.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)

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