Safarbek Soliev: Calendar of Expectations (Kalendar' ozhidaniia, 2005)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2007

 

Discussing his latest film, Calendar of Expectations, Safarbek Soliev relates his past and future works to his life: “A person shoots one film in the course of his life” (qtd Alekhina). Calendar, Soliev's third feature film amongst his twenty documentaries, demonstrates this philosophy through a hodgepodge of acted and documentary-like ethnographic scenes that tell the story of one day in a remote Tajik village tucked away in the shadows of surrounding mountains. The multitude of Soliev's shots and the disjunctures between them do not contribute to a single, on-screen narrative; instead, they produce multiple mini-narratives that are not necessarily intertwined by causality, but are visually linked by different means. Meaning must be derived from other linkages, mainly through Soliev's visual representation of the village as a microcosm for the Tajik nation. In this symbolic construction, Soliev's film gives the viewer a glimpse into Tajik life—a holistic picture whose parts depend on one another as they are sutured both visually and aurally.

Shot with a DV camera, Calendar explores the past, present, and future through the documentation of everyday life in the unnamed village. Soliev and his crew spent ten days shooting the film in the village of Dzhavchi, located in the Khakimi Gorge in the Nurabadskii region of Tajikistan. Filming while on vacation from his work with the United Nations, Soliev chose the site for its convenient location and because of his familiarity with the village—it is the hometown of his mother. His crew worked around the clock, using his uncle's house in many scenes of the film.[1]

The space of the village is mapped out by the movement of the film's two main characters, Viktor and Samad-aka, a Russian and a Tajik. The film opens with the arrival of the Russian Viktor, who once lived in the village, but left for Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing Civil War in Tajikistan. Viktor returns to the village in order to obtain legal and health documents that will prove he is not a criminal and does not have AIDS, so that he can apply for Russian citizenship. His trip has another purpose: to visit the grave of his father, who died when Viktor was in Russia (Fig. 1). Samad-aka, an elderly Tajik family man who knew Viktor before his departure, welcomes the Russian into his house, shows him around the village, and reunites him with past acquaintances. A native of the village, Samad-aka is seen throughout the film preparing boards for his own coffin (Fig. 2) and states that unlike his father, who died in Siberia, he will be buried in his native Tajik land. One's ethnicity in relation to land and location shape identity in this film; as Viktor states: “Here we were Russians, and there, in Russia, we became Tajiks.”

Although the film establishes a fictional narrative from the outset, it devotes equal attention to documenting the village itself, its inhabitants, and its natural surroundings. In fact, the numerous shots of villagers crossing bridges, gathering in public places, working on the mountainsides and in the forests are used as scenes of refuge from the narrative. Soliev maintains a constant agenda of linking the fictional to the reality of place in the film, shooting characters either against backdrops or in conversation with non-professional actors, or they are shot in scenes that capture them performing local and ethnic traditions. The treatment of dialog is unique. While characters often narrate their own stories, Soliev seems more interested in the environment in which their stories are told and how environment shapes the individual character. He often cuts away from characters in mid-speech, focusing instead on landscape shots, thereby creating a disjuncture between the visual and the aural, rendering and relegating dialog to a form of voiceover. Furthermore, the extensive use of dialog devoted to discussions of events in Tajik history, as well as and current national policies and problems, alters the role of actors in the film—they become a narrative device whose primary function is to educate the viewer.

Soliev's filming of Calendar mirrors the trajectory of the director's own career. Born in the Socialist Republic of Tajikistan in 1959, Soliev graduated from Tajik State University in 1980 and traveled to study in Moscow, receiving degrees in both screenwriting and directing in 1993. After graduating from Kyrgyz University in 2003 with a degree in law, Soliev returned to Tajikistan to work in mass media as an External Relations Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme in Dushanbe. Many autobiographical details work their way into the film, which addresses a wide variety of social problems that Soliev covers for the UN, such as the prevention of AIDS or the cleanup of landmines left over from the Civil War. [2]

More importantly, Soliev's status as a Tajik who has spent extensive time outside his homeland seems to influence both the subject matter and form of the film. This “outsider's” perspective not only structures the film, but provides a necessary perspective for a film that has been marketed at international film festivals. [3] While the film's Russian title Kalendar' ozhidaniia has been translated for foreign screenings as Calendar of Expectations , or alternatively Waiting Calendar , major events in the film—if one can say there are major events—are constructed around a series of arrivals in the village by outsiders. Viktor's arrival at the opening of the film, shown through point of view camera shots from inside of the approaching car, transports the viewer to the village. Soliev establishes the village's boundaries by not only filming, but also telling the histories of the roads, tunnels, and a bridge that Viktor's father once helped build. With the subsequent arrivals of other characters from outside the village, the viewer gains a different perspective of the local region.

Two other important outsiders appear in the course of the film. The first is a politician who travels to the village in order to gain political support, giving villagers gifts as well as promising changes and improvements. The scene explores Tajikistan's current problems of corruption and demonstrates the remoteness of a community and its fragile access to political representation. In a more interesting gesture, which recognizes his own crew's presence in the village, Soliev includes a scene at the midpoint of the film that depicts the arrival of a camera crew from Tajikfil'm (Fig. 3), illuminating the presence of the filmmaker in relation to both the town and the film. Upon arriving, the camera crew states its intention to film in the village. The character who introduces himself as Nosir Rakhmonov is actually Soliev's assistant director for Calendar . This arrival posits the director as an outsider to the town, as someone who has arrived to document it; while not necessarily in conflict with the residents of the village, his presence provides a contrast. Like the politician, the film director demonstrates the center's interest in the periphery, linking the two together. These arrivals and departures play a significant role in the film, not as crucial moments on which the causality of events depend, but rather as situations that serve to expand the viewer's perception of Tajik life beyond the filmed space of the secluded village.

The film attempts to universalize one village's experience—expanding it to the national level—while still adhering to a close examination of human nature. At the same time, however, the dichotomies presented within this village reveal Tajikistan's complex history and mixture of cultures. Soliev displays this complexity in the film's closing moments, which take place at the end of the day. As the camera pans from room to room in Samad-aka's house, the viewer is allowed to consume a multitude of images and layered sounds that run simultaneously, but at different amplitudes: Viktor and friends dance to Tajik folk music (Fig. 4), Samad-aka directs a reading of prayers (Fig.5), a Russian sings a lullaby to her baby, while another prays in front of an icon (Fig. 6). Closely tied together through this clever play with diegetic and non-diegetic sound, these images cannot be separated from one another. Calendar 's treatment of these seemingly contrasting visuals drives the film's glimpse into the future of the Tajik nation. While the notions of “expectation” and “waiting” become highly individualized for each character in the film's plot structure, their desires derive from the same environment and allow Soliev to aspire to a level of universality and wholeness in Calendar.

Andrew Chapman
University of Pittsburgh


Notes

1] I would like to thank Safarbek Soliev for responding via e-mail to questions about the production of Calendar of Expectations, as well as providing information on his current work with the UN.

2] T he UN supported the film, translating and subtitling it in English, French, and Italian.

3] Since the film's completion, Calendar has been shown at several film festivals in Europe and Central Asia, most notably at the 2006 International Film Festival Eurasia III in Kazakhstan. For more information on the 2006 International Film Festival Eurasia III, see Beumers and Rouland.

 


Works Cited

Alekhina, M. “V zhizni mnogo khoroshego.” Echo 167 (9 September 2006)

Beumers, Birgit and Michael Rouland. “Eurasia 2006: An International Festival?” KinoKultura 15 (2007).

Soliev, Safarbek. “Re: Questions about Calendar of Expectations .” E-mail to Andrew Chapman. 22 Feb. 2007.


Calendar of Expectations, Tajikistan, 2005
Color, 72 minutes
Languages: Tajik and Russian
Director: Safarbek Soliev
Screenplay: Safarbek Soliev
Cinematography: Zikrie Israilov
Art Director: Sulkhiia Khuseinova
Sound: Bakhtier Gulomov
Editing: Sulkhiia Khuseinova, Denis Beketov
Music: Ikbol Zavkibekov
Cast: Nurullo Abdulloev, Shoddi Soliev, Aleksandr Rubtsov
Producer: Safarbek Soliev
Production: Studio Kakhkashon

Safarbek Soliev: Calendar of Expectations (Kalendar' ozhidaniia, 2005)

reviewed by Andrew Chapman © 2007

Updated: 15 Jun 07