The Legend Of Tomiris

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The Legend Of Tomiris or just simply Tomiris (2019) is a biographical film about the titular queen of the Massagetae who defeated the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great in 530 BCE. This Kazakhstani epic sets the life of Queen Tomiris within the format of the vengeance narrative using cut aways to an actor playing Herodotus as a framing device and narrator. The Greek historian Herodotus’ writings from the 4th century BCE are chronicles and leave out the sort of specific details that are commonplace in biographies and histories today. So as a narrator in the film Herodotus helps to greatly economize the narrative but is entirely reliant upon the emotional weight of the vengeance angle to give the film its impact and urgency.

Almira Tursyn is very good in the role of Tomiris and never falls into the trap of playing the warrior queen as either too cold and distant or too self serving. It’s a nuanced performance that changes drastically, but appropriately, as the queen ages from her teens into middle age. Since retribution is the primary motivating factor behind the narrative of the film Tomiris would have completely fallen apart if Tursyn had not been up to the task.

Akan Sataev, the film’s director, was far too willing to rely on overly familiar devices for Tomiris to rise cinematographically to the same level of artistry as Tursyn’s performance. Tomiris is just like the average historical epic that Hollywood churns out every couple of months except for the fact that Tomiris was made for less money. The issue here isn’t so much about the money but how Sataev attempts to visually compensate for a lack of resources in bringing the film to the screen. A very good director would keep the camera close to the action during scenes of battle to both hide the limited number of extras while also allowing the rhythms of the montage to absorb the spectator and lull them into the action. Sataev made the choice to cut to a CGI aerial shot of the battle field which immediately cuts into the pacing of the battle scenes and reminds the audience of the inherent limitations of the film itself.

Cursory research into Tomiris has given me the impression that this may be one of those rare cases where the story of how and why a film got made is more interesting than the film itself. That isn’t to say that Tomiris is a film without its values. I think any historical epic with a woman at its center has at least that as a redeemable facet. It’s more a matter of the behind the scenes political games at the Kazakhstan Ministry Of Culture & Sports seems much more relevant today.