Gulandom Mukhabbatova and Daler Rakhmatov: The Wanderer (Ovora, 2005)

reviewed by Seth Graham © 2007

Tajik cinema has been largely dormant for most of the post-Soviet period due to the 1992-97 Civil War and subsequent instability and lack of resources in the country. Tajikfilm Studio, however, has in recent years produced a handful of features that have attracted attention at festivals in the former USSR and abroad, most notably Jamshed Usmonov's Angel on the Right (Farishtai kifti rost, 2002), which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and Safarbek Soliev's Calendar of Expectations (2005), one of two Tajik feature films (the other was The Wanderer) shown at the 2006 Eurasia Film Festival in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Bakhtier Khudoinazarov has made several features since 1992 (including the well-known 1999 film Luna Papa) none of which were shot in Tajikistan or produced with Tajik funds. The best-known Tajik director of the late-Soviet period, Dovlat Khudonazarov, who was briefly head of the Soviet Union of Filmmakers, and before the Civil War was an unsuccessful candidate for president of Tajikistan, left filmmaking several years ago and now works full-time in defense of the rights of migrant Tajik laborers in Moscow.

The theme of migrant labor, and its effect on the lives of the families the migrants leave behind in search of work, stands quietly on the periphery of The Wanderer. Five-year-old Abdullo lives in his remote mountain village (kishlak) with his grandmother and blind, accordion-playing grandfather. We are told only that Abdullo “has no mother,” and that his father, Sharif, left a year earlier to work in Moscow, as so many working-age Tajik men have done in the recent history of the country. Abdullo's father has not written or called (at the end of the film we learn why), but one day a friend of his arrives in the village with toys for Abdullo and money to pay for the boy's circumcision and the accompanying celebration.

Abdullo is disappointed that his father did not come in person and naturally is nervous about the circumcision itself (at one point he has a nightmare about being menaced by a moustachioed ruffian with a rusty knife). Quite a bit of screen time is devoted to how carefully and sensitively the boy's grandparents and friends prepare him, emotionally and physically, for the ritual, as well as the feast the grandparents organize to celebrate the event. These scenes are shot with a simple, almost ethnographic touch reminiscent of other recent Central Asian films with rural settings, including Aktan Abdykalykov's Beshkempir (1998). As in that film, village life in The Wanderer revolves around work, play, and the small rituals of daily life: tea, courtship, fortune-telling, prayer. The film's weakest moments occur when the directors depart from such scenes. For example, a sense of community and the need to preserve it is mostly implicit (shown rather than told), except for a curiously wordy scene in which Abdullo's grandmother angrily lectures another woman in the village who has decided to send her son off to boarding school. A curious paean to the cinema comes near the end of the film, when Abdullo's grandmother explains to her son's visiting friend how her husband was blinded: years before, he had worked as a projectionist in the local cinema, and when a fire broke out, he rushed into the flames to save a valuable print of the Indian film Awara (which, along with the peripatetic theme of the father, provides this film's title).

Comic relief is supplied by a skinny, childlike character named Garibsho, one of the only working-aged men in the village that has otherwise been left mostly to the women, children, and elderly because of the necessity for the men to seek work in Russia. Abdullo spends much of his time alone, watching the path to the village for signs of his father, and talking to his constant companion, a goat (who is at the center of another comic episode in which Abdullo must intervene to prevent his grandmother from selling the animal to pay for the boy's circumcision). The visual effect of the film relies mainly on two camera perspectives: low, child's-eye-view shots (reminiscent of many classic child-centered films of the Soviet period) and long shots of the surrounding mountain landscape.

Aside from the epilogue-like scene in which we discover why Sharif has not come home himself from Moscow, The Wanderer touches on contemporary socio-economic issues very subtly. This is perhaps surprising for a contemporary drama from Tajikistan, whose recent history has been among the most tumultuous of any country in the former Soviet Union. Other Tajik directors have favored the allegorical mode (for example Khudoinazarov's Luna Papa or Usmonov's 1998 film Flight of the Bee).

The Wanderer is the first feature by the mother-son directing team of Gulandom Mukhabbatova and Daler Rakhmatov, who previously collaborated on a trio of short films. Mukhabbatova was trained as a film critic and editor at the State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK) in Moscow in the 1970s, while her son, Rakhmatov, was educated at the Dushanbe Commercial University. The film was made with support from UNICEF and the Iranian Embassy in Dushanbe.

Seth Graham
University College London


The Wanderer, Tajikistan, 2005
Color, 75 minutes
Directors and screenwriters: Gulandom Mukhabbatova and Daler Rakhmatov.
Cinematography: Zikrie Isroilov
Art Direction: Abdurashid Dzjalilov
Music: Ikbol Zabkibekov
Cast: Alidzhon Shokirov, Fotima Guliamova, Abdukholik Sufiev, Bakhtier Rakhimov
Production: Tajikfilm

Gulandom Mukhabbatova and Daler Rakhmatov: The Wanderer (Ovora, 2005)

reviewed by Seth Graham © 2007

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