The Kazakh Face of Eurasia

in 12th Eurasia International Film Festival

by Asiya Baigozhina

The 12th edition of the International Film Festival Eurasia naturally presented the most extensive number of films from Kazakhstan itself: in post-Soviet Central Asia it is precisely here that the film process today develops most dynamically: the republic counts about 30 independent production studios, three higher educational institutions that train cinematographers, and funds for the creation of new films are annually allocated from the state budget. The Kazakh films presented at the festival were from diametrically opposed streams.

The first stream consists of films which are fully financed by the state; for the most part they turn towards the past, trying to revive heroic and epic national characters. This includes historical films such as The Kazakh Khanate (dir. Rustem Abdrashev) about the origins of Kazakh statehood; Kunanbay (dir. Doskhan Zholzhaksynov) about the imperious and wise governor, father of the great Kazakh poet Abai; Amanat (dir. Satybaldy Narymbetov) about the scientist Bekmakhanov, banished to Siberia by the Soviet authorities for his works on Kazakh history; and Road to Mother (Doroga k materi, dir. Akan Satayev) about a family during the Stalin years: after wanderings in a foreign land, at the war front and in labour camps, the son returns home. These films are made with different degrees of skill, they contain painful and touching moments, and their concern is the rehabilitation of Kazakh history. The directors of these films try to present a film version of the nation’s destiny in the form of entertainment. But in many ways this cinema is rhetorical and didactic, it is a declarative and dictated “longing for an ideal”, schematically and based on a template, where the construction of ideological cinema “to raise the spirit” is visible at once, where the morals are clear at once, where a mental shearing is in process, but actually all this bears only an indirect relation to film art.

The second stream is auteur cinema. Films of this stream concern today’s life. The Plague in the Village Karatas (Chuma v aule Karatas, dir. Adilkhan Erzhanov) is about the arrival of a new boss in a village (aul), where he unsuccessfully tries to fight plague and corruption. This is a post-modernist drama of the absurd. Bopem (dir. Zhanna Issabayeva) is a physiological sketch of moral ethics: a teenager, having learned that he has only a few weeks to live, kills those who are guilty of the death of his mother andwho are to blame for his disability: the father, a police officer, an aunt…  Wounded Angel (Ranennyi angel, dir. Emir Baigazin), the second part of the trilogy about the teenagers surviving in wild capitalism at the cost of their identity, is a tragedy about disintegration. Tollbar (Shlagbaum, dir. Zhasulan Poshanov) is also a social drama about a rich young man who beats up a poor chap working at the parking lot. In contrast to the first stream of historical pictures, these films are topical, they concern the everyday, and they breathe with real life: the realities are recognizable, and this is a ruthlessly truthful cinema made with proper film language:  the image prevails and the space of the frame bewitches. Household stories rise to the level of apocalyptic drama: self-implementation happens at the price of the loss of the self. The directors of these movies are mostly young people and their films present an account and a sentence of their country, which has abandoned them to their own devices. If the films of the first stream try to create the ideal of a nation, the movies of the second stream state that there is no material for this purpose… This is the tragedy of disintegration – of people, of the nation, of personality. These films have already won prizes at the most different festivals: the largest number of awards went to Adilkhan Erzhanov and Emir Baigazin. It is paradoxical, but: in spite of the fact that the Minister of Culture of Republic of Kazakhstan considers their movies as “dishonouring the nation”, their new projects (continuing the same line!) receive, nevertheless, financial support from the state. That is, not everything is hopeless? Yes.

The award ceremony for the winners of the national competition organised by the new National Film Academy serves as confirmation. Held within the 12th IFF Eurasia, and following a secret vote, the main award for Best Film went to the comedy Walnut Tree (dir. Erlan Nurmukhambetov) – a film where dreams and reality, past and present are woven together. There are enough problems here, but life is shown with such light humour that remains credible: everything will be alright. The simple story about how a man decided to marry is turned into a philosophical parable: to truly live, one has to laugh at oneself, leave the past behind and cheerfully move forward; probably, the viewer got tired of pathos and absurdity…

Edited by Birgit Beumers