Issue 23 (2009)

Talgat Bektursunov: 113th (Kazakhstan, 2007)

reviewed by Aliya Moldalieva© 2009

 

An Optimistic View on a “Biological Tragedy”

The debut film of the young Kazakh director Talgat Bektursunov, 113th, participated in the Eurasia International Film Festival (7-13 September, Astana, Kazakhstan), where it was awarded the Grand Prix of the short film competition.

50 minutes without freedom, and 5 minutes with…

A gloomy room with a bed and a small window, with a row of lines that have been crossed out on the wall: this is where the seven days of the weeks have been checked off. A young man in the clothes of an inmate of a clinic entertains himself with strange exercises; thus the film begins.

Why 113th? “I did not want to name my hero”, explains Bektursunov. A name means concreteness. And for the system people are not names or persons, but only serial numbers.

From time to time a hospital attendant (or doctor) calls in, throwing different things at the inmate; the actions of the inmate, or the object of the experiment, are recorded by a video camera. When #113, sitting in front of the camera's lens, begins to copy the attendant's gestures without even seeing him, it becomes clear that not the hospital attendant has been experimenting and studying #113, but he perfectly well knows and anticipates the actions of his torturer: for a genius it is easy to predict any display of mediocrity.

The hospital attendant cannot forgive #113 this sneer: there and then (and he does this tima and again) he sticks some tape over the patient's mouth and ties his sleeves behind his back. Surprisingly, despite this uncomfortable position, #113's face shows no animosity or negative emotion; rather, he is radiant. Somehow he frees his hands and busies himself again with drawing.

Who of the two is less free? And what is freedom, if not the relationship to one's situation and circumstances? In this sense, both #113 and the attendant are free: neither shows discontent: not the imprisoned genius and not the attendant chained to the monitor. But what is freedom, if not the absence of a link or tie to certain circumstances, to a way of life? Here the patient has more freedom: one day he decides to entertain himself somewhere else, having got tired of this place, and taking off for a walk. He may return: after all, he is mad.

Some spectators found the escape of #113 illogical. However, during the entire film he makes and prepares objects, which may be useful to crack the wall or the floor. He does not apply them: but we watch him through the eyes of the attendant, through the eye of the camera. Moreover, his escape does not mean he has found freedom (yes – for a short time and externally, but not internally, because he had that kind of freedom anyway), but only an expansion of #113's space for his game – beyond the hospital. In fact his relationship with the attendant is not terminated, but is merely transposed into a new setting.

Once in freedom, the madman goes into a clothes' shop and leaves it, “wrapped” in a suit, a shirt, a tie and boots. His hospital clothes remain on the dummy in the shop window. And he goes along the flowery summer street, jumping up and down, carefree.

Imagine, from the depth of the universe, millions of eyes look up, and what do they see? Some boring monochrome gray lump creeping along the ground and suddenly, like a shot, a bright colorful stain flares up. That was me turning into the street.” (Kalmykov in Markish, Stolichnye novosti)

The Essence …

One said that I'm a lunatic. The others repeated after him. But I'm not a lunatic. I see other worlds. (Moia planeta)

You don't have to be scared of geniuses. They are lovely people. I know it by myself. I'm a genius. I have no megalomania. I'm very modest and poor. (Kalmykov in Markish)

Talgat Bektursunov says that, after visiting an exhibition of the works of the Russian painter Sergei Kalmykov (1891-1967), he became interested in this man (rather not ordinary!). Having discovered that the artist represented the “fifth, missing, figure of the Russian avant-garde”, who ended up in a psychiatric clinic, Bektursunov was inspired for his film.

Here are some facts taken from publications about Sergei Kalmykov: “Biological tragedy of an artist”, that is how Kalmykov described the notion of genius. The last person who communicated with him regularly was the doctor of the psychiatric hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The doctor had realized that his patient was not a madman, but by keeping him in the clinic it was easier not to break him, but protect his self at a time when the Soviet system destroyed any heterodoxy.

I offer here some sketchy information about the painter, although Bektursunov's work is not about Kalmykov, but about the Artist in general. Frequently artists have a reputation—if not of lunatics and odd fellows, then of outsiders. And this is not about external strangeness: simply these unusual geniuses see “other worlds” and live in other value systems.

Mediocrity/genius, system/ individuality, conformism/eccentricity, restriction/freedom, reason/madness… these binaries are up for consideration in Bektursunov's work. Why not mix these concepts? Because the first element in these pairs try to suppress and destroy the second, but—like water—they seep into life all the same.

… and language

In terms of style Talgat Bektursunov's film does not invent anything new. But debutants rarely make such films, and therefore Bektursunov's turn to this kind of cinema is a nice move. At first sight it may seem that he tries to single himself out, but that is not the case. The minimalism and a certain quality of image and sound are the result of a genuine desire for self-expression, of a definite concept but a lack of means. It is remarkable that this lack of means forced the film's concept to work for itself: the poor quality of image and sound seems to be a special design (the rough black-and-white image looks as if seen through the hospital attendant's monitor and is replaced by the color world outside the cell).

113th is essentially a theatre stage for one actor: the lunatic (played by Bektursunov himself) holds our attention. The hospital attendant appears in the frame much less, but we often hear his mischievous laughter. In terms of ingenuity of inventing an activity, #113 never gives up: he pretends to be playing the guitar (formed by his leg); he circles round the floor with his feet and lifts a cup, trying to pour the contents into his mouth; he juggles with eggs; he pedals an imaginary bicycle with his feet; he draws a dove on the wall; he swipes the chalk from the wall with his palm and whitens his face like a Pierrot's mask. Finally, he invents a shadow theatre with kissing and quarreling characters. At that stage, it is quite impossible to predict what else this patient might invent!

There is no tragedy in the film's narrative, although it could have been there, especially when we remember Sergei Kalmykov's life and that of many other masters. Instead of tragedy, the filmmaker uses humor and optimism.

As opposed to depressive underground works (avant-garde and other), Bektursunov does not venture into symbolism or marginality. His cinema may be metaphoric, but at the same time it is also very real. This balancing act between two extremes seems to create a quite comprehensible, even commendable result.

In my opinion the author presents his idea quite sensibly. Too long? If the film were shorter, then it would no longer be 113th, but simply a muffled and senseless joke. Should cinema always be “easy viewing”? I know other uncomfortable films, but this one I watched with interest. And it is the kind of cinema that invites the spectator to finish off the idea, to comprehend and understand.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Aliya Moldalieva
Bishkek

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Works

Markish, David. “Biologicheskaia tragediia khudozhkina”, Stolichnye novosti 35 (7-13 October 2003),

"Sergey Kalmykov. My planet”, Russkoe iskusstvo

Shevelev, Igor. “Vernut' Kalmykova”, interview with David Markish, God Odinochestva (Site of Igor Shevelev).


113th!, Kazakhstan, 2007
Color, 55 min., video.
Director: Talgat Bektursunov
Cast: Talgat Bektursunov, N. Baianov
Director of Photography: N. Baianov, Talgat Bektursunov
Editing: A. Aldazharov
Sound: A. Gibadullin
Production: Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts

Talgat Bektursunov: 113th (Kazakhstan, 2007)

reviewed by Aliya Moldalieva© 2009

Updated: 08 Jan 09