Winner of the Best Film Award at Ulaanbaatar International Film Festival and on its way to screen at San Francisco (December 20th, 8:30pm at Presidio Theatre on Chestnut Street), “Life” is a strange but definitely very interesting effort in the genre film category
As the film begins, we are introduced to Khulan, a very beautiful and very rich, but also quite cruel young woman, and her servant, Baigal, who is trying to put some sense into her “boss”, but to no avail. Soon later, and during a school excursion ion the woods, Khulan’s son, Sonor, is lost. Flashforward to sometime later, and we watch a rundown Khulam stripped of any kind of pride or luxury, taking a pilgrimage trip in the harshest way possible. At the same time, and through a number of extensive flashbacks, we learn of Khulan’s story since her school years, when she used to be a spoiled “princess” who thought she could do whatever she wanted, particularly regarding men.
Eventually she falls in love with a sculptor and becomes pregnant, a relationship her father forbids her from pursuing, instead marrying her to one of his trusted associates, who also happens to be the family’s chauffeur. Bitterness eventually takes over Khulan, with the only support in her life coming from Baigal, while a number of secrets regarding her father and mother are eventually revealed.
Janchivdorj Sengendorj directs a film with a very complicated and occasionally naive narrative, which moves in three timelines: past, present and future, with the past taking the biggest slice of the duration. This tactic becomes a bit tiresome after a fashion, since there seems to be no particular reason for such complexity, but at the same time, it keeps the film interesting, for most of its duration, as the plot twists shed more light to the reasons Khulan became who she is. Some elements of melodrama could also have been avoided, but I did not feel the fault the overall sense the film leaves significantly.
Through this story, Sengendorjj makes a number of social and philosophical comments. The fact that money do not bring happiness, the consequences of being spoiled, superficial and uncaring, the solace religion can provide and the glorification of the hard-working, “lower caste” people which are embodied in Baigal’s character are the most central, all of which are quite eloquently presented in the movie.
D. Purenshuren as Khulan is the personification of the rest of the comments, with her giving an impressive performance as her character is deconstructed completely, from a happy and naive spoiled girl to a bitter woman to a shell of her former self, stripped completely of all the aforementioned characteristics. Navchaa Bazarjav as Baigal plays the “voice of reason” and is quite good as the catalyst of the story.
Nergui Erdenekhuyag’s cinematography is among the best assets of the film, with him portraying images of extreme beauty in various settings and locations, with artistry. Temuulen Butenbayar’had a very difficult job of editing the different timelines together, but his effort is quite good considering the difficulty, while he induces the film with a relatively fast pace that suits its genre aesthetics quite nicely.
“Life” has its faults, particularly regarding the narrative, but its visuals, story and acting aspects make it a worthy effort in genre film, and definitely a movie that deserves some attention.