Bridge Between the East and the West

in 7th Almaty Eurasia International Film Festival

by Salome Kikaleishvili

“Our goal is to form a cultural bridge between the East and the West,” claims the Film Festival, which was held in Almaty for the seventh time. Eurasia is an international film festival in Central Asia, which involves both eastern and western films; which tries not to drag behind the processes in world cinematography; and which, along with the films awarded at Class A festivals, offers something new, different, and idiosyncratic. If we cast a look at the post-Soviet space, not too many countries can boast of shooting so many films annually — 25 films per year — as Kazakhstan, which confirms that they are making films, trying to develop the film industry, and are looking for new, expressive methods and their own language. This in itself means that cinema is alive in Kazakhstan.

It is obvious that the Eurasia Film Festival is held with the support of the Kazakhstan Government: here, I mean the quality of the festival, the level of organization and of course, the program, which is extremely diverse.

The following special programs were presented at Eurasia 2011: dynamic Kazakh cinema, special events (films winning awards at various festivals), virtual West and changing East, Echo of Venice, USA documentary showcase, and a competition program, which included films from the Philippines, Russia, Romania, France, Iran and Kazakhstan.

The festival was opened by Return to “A” by Egor Konchalovsky. In short, this was not a Class A film. As one of the reviewers wrote: it is a typical Hollywood film. Yes, that was certainly so. Return to “A” is a Hollywood blockbuster dedicated to the Afghan theme. If you have not seen it, don’t worry; what the author planned to voice painfully — a war-affected hero, friendship and love, devotion and conflict — ultimately proved quite superficial and vague. However, Konchalovsky’s speech at the opening is worth noting more than the film itself. He spoke about his Kazakh roots and his love of Almaty, which is growing gradually (apparently along with his age). No, it really was an emotional speech and, to say the truth, I kept in mind his frankness rather than the average blockbuster.

As far as the competition program is concerned, several films need to be singled out here, with their bad or good sides. For example, The Bedouin by Igor Voloshin — a story about a young woman, whose daughter suffers from leukemia and, in order to obtain money, she travels to Russia to become a surrogate mother. The story is very interesting in itself. But it is most difficult, especially in a drama, to keep an eye on the limit that will save the film from false and cheap, dime dramatism. Unfortunately, this limit was violated here and the story interweaved so much in its own web that eventually it failed to escape and turned into a banal drama.

I can diagnose Another Sky by Dmitrii Mamulia (Russia) quite simply: don’t stretch to 86 minutes what you can do within 40 minutes — you will lose out.

The Icelandic film Volcano (director Rúnar Rúnarsson) is a story about an old man, who retires from his job and about his feelings — apparently extremely clean-polished and absolutely predictable — about loneliness, coldness inside or outside, aggravated by the most beautiful Icelandic landscapes.

The Kazakh-Japanese film The First Rains of Spring by Sano Shinju and Erlan Nurmukhambetov is interesting. A story of a family living in high mountains: some mystics, some pastoral scenes, sheep, windy weather, a difficult but exotic life — nothing new, unfortunately.

As for Sunny Days (Kazakhstan) by Nariman Turebaev, this film should have been created in its time: the late eighties and early nineties. The story about how painful it is when time and man are in absolute contradiction with each other, when the “little man” fails to keep in step with time and one usual night appears in front of the headlamps of a truck, has come a little late.

The theme of time is again used in Realtor (a Kazakh film by Adilkhan Erzhanov), which belongs to the sphere of fantasy. It is the story about how a swindler, Darik, appears in the past and how a former gambler becomes a real hero. The search of form is quite obvious in the film, which is reflected in its expressive side; however, the insistence on the comic nature, reminiscent of comics, makes the characters resemble those that you will watch once, laugh and forget.

One of the best things in the festival’s competition program was the journey in Quartier Lointain along with Sam Garbanski’s character. Traveling to one’s own childhood magically, mystically — returning one day in order to suffer old pains again, trying to find answers to unanswered questions. What for? To change anything? No, nothing will change; simply, maybe you will understand at last — stop whimpering and look around, look, you’re happy! Light humor and perfect form distinguish both the “distant traveling” of this movie and his previous film at the Berlin Film Festival, Irina Palm.

Palawan Fate (Busong) by Philippine director Auraeus Solito is worth noting separately. Solito comes from a lineage of Shaman-Kings from the Palawan tribe. Like his own story, the film’s plot sounds like a fairy-tale today, in 2011: Punay was born with wounds in her feet so that she cannot step on the earth. Her brother carries her in a hammock. Just he cannot carry her alone and therefore asks different people on their way to help him in order to find a healer who can cure Punay. So, on their way, in this strange nature, where thick forests are replaced by the endless ocean of indescribable beauty, they meet people, who tell their stories: sad, dramatic, painful. All of them are looking for something: the first — for a lost child, the second — for a dead husband, and the third — for himself. This is kind of a myth, a poetic myth about love, hope and life; in the film, a human being gives birth to a butterfly, everything obeys invisible laws. Probably, it was just this poetic language that distinguished Busong from all other films. The new Philippine naïve film won the FIPRESCI award.

And finally, I cannot finish this report without mentioning the famous South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who was the President of the International Jury. His undoubtedly good work Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter was remembered once again and Arirang was shown — the film, which won the prize of Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. It was Kim Ki-duk’s acknowledgement, confession, suicide, sorrow and melancholy, about which he sang in the drama about himself, his Arirang. Though it is a separate story, a separate chapter, and it will take much time to talk about.