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Gibel Otrara

The Fall of Otrar

USSR/Kazakhstan 1991
produced by
Aleksei German for Kazakhfilm
directed by Ardak Amirkulov
starring Dokhdurbek Kydyraliyev, Tungyshbai Dzhamankulov, Bolot Bejshenaliyev, Abdurashid Makhsudov, Zaur Zekhov, Sabira Atayeva, Pyotr Moreozov, Sh. Khakimzhabiv, Ali Tukhuzhev, A. Ashikonov, S. Khugayev, I. Arsenyev, K. Zauirbekov, Yu. Tuyu-Tyan, Dinmukhamet Akhimov, Abdrashid Abdrakhmanov
written by Aleksei German, Svetlana Karmalita, music by Kuat Shildebayev

Genghis Khan

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Central Asia, the 13th century: Undzhu (Dokhdurbek Kydyraliyev) has been a scout in Genghis Khan's (Bolot Bejshenaliyev) army for years, while the Mongol conqueror expanded his realm all across Asia - but now he wants to conquer the Kipchaks' country as well, and sbeing of Kipchak origin, Undzhu abandons his allegiance to the Khan to warn his own people. However, back home, Undzhu is seen as a traitor because of his years with Genghis Khan, and since on a political level the Kipchaks' ruler Kairkhan (Tungyshbai Dzhamankulov) is more interested in one day taking Baghdad than any threat from the East, Undzhu is incarcerated and brutally tortured to be silenced. Undhu's repeated attempts to escape only end in failure, and when he eventually does manage to escape and hooks up with a tribe of nomads, he is essentially a broken man. Then though, Genghis Khan's army really invades Kipchak country, and Undzhu is put in Kairkhan's employ as a military advisor - yet everybody still suspects him to be a traitor, and all too often, his advice is simply ignored ... until Genghis Khan actually takes the capital of Kipchak country, makes Kairkhan his prisoner and subjects him to tortures similar (and similarly humiliating) to those Undzhu was treated to before killing him forcing boiling water down his throat.

Undzhu has survived the ordeal and leaves the battlefield not only a free man but also with the knowledge he and he alone was right all along - but what good will that do him with his people annihilated by the Khan?

 

On a pure visual level, The Fall of Otrar is stunning, a film that's influenced in equal parts by Sergei Eisenstein, Akira Kurosawa and John Ford without having become a mere quoting machine, a film that's strong on atmosphere that's accomplished by amazing sets and (barren) landscapes and an expert change between sepia tinted black-and-white and faded colour material that give the film its other-worldly looks. And then there are these battle and torture scenes that are incredibly violent without seeming sensationalistic - in other words, this was made by a filmmaker who knew what he was doing, and knew it incredibly well.

And yet, The Fall of Otrar is a less than perfect film, on one hand, at about 2 3/4 hours, it is too long for the story it's trying to tell, after a time, certain scenes (especially some torture scenes) seem to just exist to hammer a point home yet again and thus seem awfully repetitive, and narrative-wise, the whole film seems to go into a loop. This also causes the film to lose its dramatic buildup and instead become just a series of atrocities at times ... and while watching on, one can't help but get the feeling that many of the scenes were just added to give the film an epic flair (and let's be honest, when if ever was the last time you have seen an epic of less than 150 minutes of running time) - which not only in my eyes is the wrong way to go if it stands in the way of decent storytelling.

In all, the film still is impressive, but not half as good as it could have been if trimmed by about an hour of running time and focused more on actual storytelling than epic approach ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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out now on DVD