To get to a Reality, first you have to reach Simplicity By Charles S. Roy

in 28th Moscow International Film Festival

by Charles-Stéphane Roy

High-rated Tajik director Djamshed Usmonov has quite a record on the festival circuit with his low key, grim dramas sets in his homeland (he’s currently living in France). Still, the Russian audience who attended the Moscow Festival screening of his latest To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die (Bihisht faqat baroi murdagon) seemed more lost than dazzled by the heavy European auteurist feel of his depiction of a somewhat twisted coming-of-age thug story.

As hypnotic but less felted than his previous work – Angel on the Right (Fararishtay kifti rost, 2002) and Flight of the Bee (Parvaz-e Zanbur, 1998), To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die, (a Russia/ France/ Tajikistan/ Germany/ Switzerland co-production) has all the minimalist pace, bold framing and over-choreographed tricks in the auteur book, but one will wonder how well does this serves its passive-aggressive characters and its tricky dramatic evolution. Kamal, a 20 year old inexpressive countryman, tries to overcome his new marital impotency by visiting his cousin in the city. After unproductive encounters with local hookers, Kamal falls for textile worker Vera at a bus stop. He follows her and spends effortlessly the night with the shy and repressed girl, and still he’s unable to make love to her. Little did he know that Vera is married to an intimidating con man, who robs luxury furniture in empty houses by night. Unwilling to beat the shit out of his wife’s new lover because he “…likes to chat and hang out”, the thug forces Kamal to help him on a fatal robbery during which Vera’s husband kills a rich man and rapes his girlfriend. Out of fear, Kamal shoots his unlikely partner and returns to Vera. Filled with remorse and trauma, he manages to successfully make love to her.

According to Usmonov standards, Tajikistan seems to be quite an austere place where you have to deal with a hostile community in order to get along with the ones you care about. In Angel on the Right, an ex-convict (played by Maruf Pulodzoda, who also appears in his latest as Vera’s husband) had hard times dealing with his former friends while getting back to his village to help his dying mother. Here, the main character’s path is still filled with troublemakers and oddly seems the harshest (yet most direct) way to sexual fulfilment. While this could be misled for a dramatically challenging story, To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die fails to overcome its own impotency to make the best out of incompatible elements and erratic evolution, despite crafty photography. In light of the actors’ natural performances, the film sinks into a deeper self-satisfactory dead-end where the mise en scene always overshadows the innocence and authenticity it tries so complicatedly to convey.