Lost Paradise

in 18th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

by György Báron

Can anybody name a film from Kyrgyzstan? We know almost nothing about the cinema of that Asian country which was a part of the Soviet Union and gained its independence only 25 years ago. If you click on ‘Kyrgyz cinema’ on imdb, you’ll get only one name: Marat Sarulu (just to compare: if you click on Kazakh cinema, you’ll get more than 250 names and titles). Sarulu is the only Kyrgyz filmmaker who is more or less known in international festival circles, after receiving several awards for his 2009 feature, “Songs for the Southern Seas” (Peshny yuzhnykh morey). But this remarkable piece was a German-Russian-French-Kazakh coproduction. This year, the 57-year-old Kyrgyz master made a three hour long feature in his native country. His new film, “Move” (Pereezd) was one of the highlights of the International Competition Program of the 18th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival where it won Best Director and the NETPAC Award (Network for the Promotion of the Asian Cinema). 

You may feel a slight irony behind the fact that a film which is called “Move” was shot only in fixed takes with a stable camera on a tripod. Moreover, the story itself hardly moves, and only very slowly from one point to another. But there is no irony behind the title. The plot is simple and the style is minimalistic. An old fisherman is living with his granddaughter in a small, simple wooden house on the bank of a river surrounded by high mountains somewhere in Kyrgyzstan. One day, his daughter, the mother of the young girl, appears and persuades him to sell the house and move to the nearby city where they will live together in urban comfort. Grandpa and granddaughter give up their peaceful life in close connection with the nature, and move – as the title indicates – to the town into a block of houses. Slowly it turns out that they do not only lose the peace and silent harmony of their traditional life but also the roof over their heads: the mother cannot pay back the bank loan, and their apartment is mortgaged and confiscated by the bank. In the end they have to separate: the mother leaves for Moscow to find a job, grandpa moves to a nursing home, and the little girl to an orphanage. Paradise has been lost. But one day grandpa leaves the nursing home to visit his granddaughter…       

Sarulu and his brilliant DOP, Boris Troshev, compose every take very carefully, with great virtuosity. All compositions are as picturesque as still photographs: the landscapes with the river, the mountains and the changing lights in the first part and the urban desert of the post-Soviet city in the second. Usually, we first notice the empty location the actors are entering into. These settings, this method of camerawork and the slow rhythm of storytelling remind us of the style of Yasujiro Ozu, which Paul Schrader called ‘transcendental’. The constantly passing ships and trains also remind us of the Japanese master. Like Ozu, Sarulu concentrates on traditional family life that falls apart. He shows the small moments of everyday life with sensitive microrealism.  

I believe that this slow masterpiece from the East (like Ozu’s works) will be very successful at festivals and in art-houses and put Kyrgyz cinema on the map.

Edited by Alison Frank