Nuestra lucha no se trata de una mera elección estrecha entre opciones electorales dentro del actual régimen, sino de apostar por formas de organización económica y espiritual, cualitativamente superiores a la civilización burguesa, donde se garantiza la emancipación del proletariado y la democracia real. Es la lucha popular por la conquista de la civilización socialista, partiendo del estudio científico de las bases materiales que lo posibilitan y con el objetivo último del comunismo.

[Automatic translation: EN]
[Traduction automatique: FR]

6 de enero de 2009

Cine mongolia socialista‏ [Inglés]

Tsogt Taij [Mongolia 1945]

Цогт тайж
Director: T. Khurlee
Cinematographers: D. Jigjid, B. Demberel

This film revolves around Choghtu Khong Tayiji, a 17th century Mongolian prince who waged a campaign against Tibetan forces. Much like Michael the Brave, the film depicts a mediaeval hero fighting against foreign invaders, with a nationalist vision, in this case the vision of a 'united and sovereign' Mongolia. Both in theme and stylistically, it also shares some characteristics with Alexander Nevsky, but it has a distinctive feeling which sets it apart from these films.

One of the main points of the film seems to be its message against Tibetan Buddhism. This was one of the primary belief systems against which anti-religious propaganda was directed in the early decades of Mongolian socialism. The figure of Choghtu Khong Tayiji was undoubtedly chosen for the film because of his fight against the Tibetans. Here, the Tibetan Lamas are portrayed as a cynical invading force, in which supposed pacifistic beliefs of Buddhists are easily cast aside when the occasion demands it. More importantly, Tibetan Buddhism is painted as the diametrical opposite of Mongolian nationalism, because to be patriotic is to resist the Buddhist invasion.

There are several interesting symbols associated with this. One is that the Mongols are spoken of as wearing 'red hats', while the Lamas wear 'yellow hats'; so the war is between the 'red hats' and the 'yellow hats'. This gives rise to such phrases as a Tibetan talking about how he wishes for 'red Mongolia' to be crushed. There seems to be an obvious attempt here to connect these 'red hats' with the red of socialism, and thereby connect the foreign invaders with those invaders who attempted to crush socialism during the war. Moreover, while the swastika is an ancient Buddhist symbol and therefore one must be careful about attributing a Nazi analogy to its use here, there are several conspicuous shots of the swastika as the symbol of the Buddhists, including a prolonged shot of one of them juxtaposed with skulls. A reference is also made to the Mongols having to bow down not just to the Lamas, but to their symbol--i.e. the swastika. So it may not be stretching things too far to suggest that these are intended to associate the foreign invaders with the fascists, particularly given the involvement of Soviet staff (who would themselves have seen swastikas in that way) in Mongolian cinema productions during the early years.

There is also a particularly interesting scene in which the Tibetans are shown ransacking the palace of Choghtu Khong Tayiji. They brutally and maniacally destroy cultural artefacts and in particular, a large quantity of books. Here the symbolism seems crystal clear. The Buddhists are the ones opposed to progress, opposed by implication to science and so on--one of the primary reasons for vilifying religion in some socialist development projects. To side with the Buddhists is to side with ignorance and stagnation, rather than civilisation and progress. It is to assist Mongolia's foreign enemies in keeping her backward.

A further political message seems to be contained in the actions of one Mongol in assisting in this way. That is that the prince's son Arslan betrays Mongolia to the Tibetans because they are able to exploit his weakness for women. There is an implication here about the young selling out Mongolia to foreigners on the basis of their promises of a hedonistic lifestyle etc. Whether this should be read as a political message is not certain, but it seems possible; something along the lines of part of what is said in Berlin - Schönhauser Corner.

While there is clearly a strong political message being sent here, this film is thus not as simplistic as some others of the same period. In particular, while some of the cinematography resembles e.g. Alexander Nevsky, this film does not feel so much like socialist realism. The characters are far too human and multidimensional. They have their weaknesses, which are perhaps oversimplified, but they are weaknesses mixed up with strengths, rather than caricatures. This gives the film a distinctive feeling when compared to some Soviet films of the time.

There is another stylistic peculiarity. That is the general slowness of the film. Dialogue seems very slow, and there are many long, drawn out shots of people and animals moving and slowly doing things. In many films these would have been cut out, and this leads to a significantly longer film than one might expect. It is difficult to speculate about the reasons for this, but it seems possible that this reflects some sort of peculiarity about the nascent Mongolian cinema of the time.

Also reflecting peculiarities is the wide use of what seem like 'typical Mongolian'-type cultural references. That is, we see an important traditional Mongolian festival, with extended portrayal of its rituals and games; we hear a lot of Mongolian music, and so on. Of course, as it is a Mongolian film, one would expect some of this, but because of the extent of it, one gets the feeling that this is deliberately done in order to encourage a sense of Mongolian nationalism, and that this is a specifically nationalist film. It is only speculation, but it seems possible that at the time, given the relative paucity of Mongolian films, it might have also been somewhat thrilling for Mongolians to see their perceived 'national practices' depicted on film. This also helps to emphasise that they are opposed to the 'foreign' practices of Tibetan Buddhism.

Finally another oddity seems to reinforce this point. That is that all of the titles and credits are in classical Mongolian script, although apparently by 1945 the alphabet had already been changed to Cyrillic. The most obvious reason for this would have been to reinforce a sense of Mongolian nationalism. But it is also interesting to note that it must have been expected that people would be able to read the script, in spite of its having been replaced in 1931 by Latin and again in 1941 by Cyrillic. In any case, writing the titles in the classical script seems to be a symbolic gesture.

What does all this nationalism amount to? There are striking parallels with Michael the Brave, and it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that this film, like that one, was partly about building up a sense of nationalism in resistance to foreign interference. Here, the foreign interference is the interference of Japan and pre-revolutionary China, which laid claim to Mongolia. As the film was made around 1944, both of these messages would have been appropriate. A second point is the one already mentioned--to paint Buddhism as a foreign imposition in order to counter it. And a third one is probably just to build up a sense of national unity and patriotism in order to encourage people to feel part of society and contribute to it.

While the film feels a bit rough around the edges sometimes, perhaps because of its early date in Mongolian cinema, it is somewhat stylistically distinctive. Its political agenda seems heavily connected to the politics of the time at which it was made; one could easily read it as a 'propaganda film'. But it also has a more general message of promoting Mongolian nationalism, and this presumably transcends the moment at which it was made. Most importantly, it does not feel like socialist realism, although there is clearly some influence.