An Universal Tale Against Kazakhstan Landscape By João Antunes

in 9th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Joao Antunes

One of the greatest beauties of attending international film festivals — apart from our professional concerns — is the ever diminishing chance to discover films and authors that would very rarely make it to the conventional commercial circuits of distribution.

And when we do get the opportunity of seeing such a truly great movie, telling us a universal tale and, at the same time, offering us a glimpse into the culture, the traditions and the natural environment of the characters’ country of origin, it makes the time spent in the dark room doubly worthwhile.

Such was the case with The First Rains of Spring (Koktemnin Birinshi Zhambyry), the winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 9th edition of the wonderful Golden Apricot International Film Festival, held in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Yerevan is also the centre of one of the oldest and the richest cultures in the world, which — it should never be forgotten — has suffered through a most dramatic history of survival!

Our jury concentrated on a selection of works from Armenia, from its bordering countries and from the region in general, which potentially offered us an inside perspective on films produced in that part of the occidental world, where the so-called official histories of world cinema, past and present, are being written.              Just to get an idea of how far Armenia is from the rest of the world one should not only think in terms of kilometres and miles, but also be aware of the fact that most of the overseas flights arrive and depart from Yerevan’s airport in the middle of the night! So you can imagine the difficulty Armenian filmmakers face when trying to  adapt their works to the most sought after standards of world cinema. Yet there is always the wonderful, magical and unique film world of Sergei Paradjanov they could draw from since for them it is not just a heritage, but a living source of inspiration.

Given the fact that Armenian cinema is still trying to find its own identity and to also deal with so many tragic and disturbing events from the recent history of the country, our prize went to a film from Kazakhstan.

On the backdrop of the austere landscape of this young Asian country, near the Tien Shan Mountains, there lives a shaman with his family. The death of the oldest woman in his family coincides with arrival of a father and daughter from Russia on their motorcycle. An event, which move the story away from its particular — national and historical — specificity and towards its universal meaning.

It is really a tale of life and death, and of love in-between; a look at the cycle of life and a poetic view on our place in this world that The First Rains of Spring offers to its viewers. A film, marked by the simplicity and profundity of movies like The River (1951), Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari, 1953) or Tabu (1932).

Of course, we were not comparing Jean Renoir, Yasujiro Ozu or F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty to the two directors of The First Rains of Spring. It would not be even be fair to them to do so, because it was easy to see they were not emulating anyone. Yet instead of producing some exotic folkloric or touristy take on Kazakhstan, they simply reveal to their viewers that deep inside, on the level of their feelings, emotions and dreams, all human beings are alike. And gently ask them to never forget this…

Maybe the emotional power of this film is rooted in the shared sensitivity of its Kazakh filmmaker, Yerlan Nurmukhambetov with that of Sano Shinju, who comes from Japan, but has lived in Kazakhstan for a while, thus reminding us that we should be more open to excellent films coming from unexpected places. Indeed, The First Rains of Spring, one of  the most beautiful films we were able to see for a long time, celebrates the eternal beauty of cinema.