KinoKultura: Issue 24 (2009)

The Secret Sense of the Tashkent Messages

By Gulbara Tolomushova (Bishkek)

From 17-23 November 2008, the Forum of Visual Anthropology “Film-Visa” hosted the Festival of National Cinema of Uzbekistan in Tashkent. The international jury was headed by the well-known Uzbek writer and scriptwriter Erkin Agzam and included the culturologist Kirill Razlogov (Russia), the art director of the IFF Didor, Sadullo Rakhimov (Tajikistan), the producer Sergei Azimov (Kazakhstan), and the film critic Gulbara Tolomushova (Kyrgyzstan).

Festival director Shukhrat Makhmudov presented a competition including 17 feature films made in the country during the last two years, largely on 35 mm. In total, the selection commission viewed three times as many films. The best new Central Asian and Russian films were shown out of competition. This cultural event was financially supported by the “Forum Fund” (Uzbekistan), the Swiss Government, and the National Agency Uzbekkino.

This trip to my long-time favorite Tashkent was characterized by delightful signs with secret meanings: the habitual calm and good fortune of the well-groomed city streets was filled with rustles of our steps on a carpet of yellow leaves strewn across the entire space between the hotel and the cinema. It seemed that this carpet was a magnificent natural catwalk, and for sure—had Mohsen Mahmalbaf be in Tashkent, he would have captured this beautiful image with his camera.

Undoubtedly, the best film at the festival was Silence (Sukunat) by Yolkin Tuichiev. In his previous film, The Spring (Chashma 2006), he had been rather optimistic and expressed his belief that any young, educated compatriot had only the finest future ahead of him. Here Tuichiev offers a dire diagnosis to the narrow circle of the Uzbek artistic and intellectual bohemia. It is incurably infected, as sickness has crept in imperceptibly and will not go away.

tashklentIn the course of the film Silence a beautiful and fashionable actress suddenly goes deaf. Gradually, in the general noise of sounds, she ceases to distinguish even loud, importunate rings of mobile phones, and when the exclamations of the taxi driver: “someone keeps calling you!” reach her consciousness, it transpires that the heroine (Rano Shodieva) can no longer conduct conversation: she cannot hear at all. And yet this was her beloved man calling (Nazim Tuliakhodzhev) who simply cannot manage to make a date with her.

The actress stops using taxis: the entire city now finds out that she is deaf. Furthermore, it gets worse. She cannot properly work, unable to hear the instructions of the director or the retorts of her stage partners. By and by she learns that her beloved is sick. She goes to the hospital, where she runs into his wife, who shouts at her: “Go, say hello, although most likely he’s already forgotten you!”—“Why!”, the actress asks in surprise.—“He will soon forget all of us!”

And really, the strong-built middle-aged man has lost his memory. He sits helplessly on the bed and tries to remember in vain what woman has appeared before him. He has clearly forgotten his wife already, although she raises her head in pride and stands in the room as the status of a lawful spouse allows her to dissolve entirely in the care for her husband, who has suddenly turned into a child. Only the pastel-color curtain fluttering in the wind in the open window brings the shocked actress back to the frail world. The mise-en-scène in the hospital ward—three restless figures in different parts of the frame and the curtain persistently beating against the window-frame—is the embodiment of the author’s recurrent concern for the impending spiritual vacuum in society. Deservedly, Abduvakhid Ganiev was awarded the prize for best camera work.

yurtThe Grand Prix went to the well-known and popular The Yurt (Iurta) by Ayub Shakhobiddinov, for which the script was written also by Yolkin Tuichiev. In centre of The Yurt stands a strange pair: a powerful father crushing everything and everybody around, and the heroine with an inner light—a dumb girl who is in love with this strong man. The main actors of Silence, Nazim Tuliakhodzhev and Rano Shodieva, were also partners in The Yurt. Rano is a fine young actress who has played in several competition films and she is very pliable in the hands of a talented director.

Nevertheless, the prize for Best Actress went to the more experienced Il’mira Rakhimdzhanova, who could be seen in several, quite different roles: in Oydinoi by Nazim Abbasov she works in a comic key, in Sabir Nazarmukhamedov’s My Soul is Gripped by Light Grief, her role is colored with lyrical tones and a dramatic subtext.

yurtShe was awarded the prize for her role as Zabarzhad in Bakhodyr Odilov’s film of the same title, based on a script by Erkin Agzam. This film defines another vector in modern Uzbek cinema. Zabarzhad, who works at a research institute, is a woman with principles. She is sickened by the narrow-minded mask of many fellow citizens who prefer “to keep silent, not notice evil and not hear about it”. If someone makes Zabarzhad an indecent offer, she stands up for herself; if an ailing patient needs help, she will offer. In situations when everybody hides from important everyday problems, she has preserved the qualities of a true citizen of her country. She is no longer young and no longer dreams of simple female happiness, which somehow she has and somehow not, but these personal problems are no excuse for her, as they are for many others.

Zabarzhad is the matured Orzibibi from The Spring. Orzibibi wonderfully combined within herself maturity and innocence. Frequently Orzibibi, having forgotten about herself, hurries up to assist a passer-by. In The Spring I noticed for the first time that in Uzbek cinema—alongside men’s images—the female image also can be very powerful and charged. This happens when directors make an important statement about the present situation of the country’s social and spiritual life. Probably, with fine subtext, this is achieved best through the image of a woman.

Usurping almost the entire right half of the frame, the lonely female figure looks into the depth of the frame because she stands with her back to the spectators who, however, feel that she looks at her land with questions, in grief and pain. Yolkin Tuichiev repeatedly places his new heroine from Silence into a raised position, above the city, as does Bakhodyr Odylov with Zabarzhad. “The woman is the mistress of the native land”, as I would read the message of Uzbek directors; because men weaken in mid-life and try to hide from problems, so that sometimes it is easier for him to lose his memory. But a woman like Zabarzhad is ready to take the responsibility for the offences and mistakes of her fellow citizens. I talked about this during the festival to the veteran of Uzbek cinema, Ravil Batyrov, whose film Where’s Paradise (Zhannat kaidadir) also explored this theme. “During hard times the destiny of the family is concentrated in the hands of women,” remarked Batyrov. “In my family too there was a period when my wife took the reins in her hands.”

Of course, in Uzbek genre cinema the situation is entirely different. Men are strong, both physically and in spirit. They are ready to protect the borders of the native land, as in Dzhahangir Kasymov’s film Eighteenth Square (18 kvadrat), which tellingly won the prize for Best Actor for the part of the tall, strong and rather patriotic Sergeant Ziyodov. During the current season, the Uzbek leader of the box office is the film Super-Bride, (Super-kelinchak) by Bakhrom Yakubov, which moves to the foreground all basic female virtues: beauty, wit, kindness, diligence, thriftiness, and so on. Yakubov received the Special Mention of the Jury for his mastery, and he has proven again that he has no match in Uzbek spectator cinema. All of Central Asia knows his hits: Fatima and Zukhra, Happiness for a Million, and so on.

Tellingly, the Uzbek super-bride is a Russian girl. In fact, only two years ago, during the Second Festival “Creative Flights”, I saw plenty of Uzbek films and noticed that Russian actresses commonly play the roles of prostitutes or their illegitimate daughters.

moonIn this connection we have to mention Zul’fikar Musakov’s new film The House under the Curved Moon (Oi ostidagi khovli), which was awarded the Prize for Best Script. Born in Tashkent, the Muscovite Victor decides to visit his father’s grave in Uzbekistan. In his own country, he accidentally hits an old man. A chain of events leads the hero to a meeting with the daughter of the man he knocked out (Rano Shodieva) and Victor falls in love with her. Although the Uzbek girl sympathizes with the Russian man who, true, is much older than she is, the affair is impossible.

When I left Tashkent, I remembered through the prism of the Uzbek films I had seen the following symbols of this warm November: the seemingly calm good fortune, the rustling and yet fluffy carpet of yellow leaves, my mysterious admirers and the flowers they left on my threshold.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Awards 

Prize for Best Film: The Yurt (Iurta) by Ayub Shakhobiddinov
Prize for Best Director: Sabir Azarmukhamedov for My Soul is Gripped by Light Grief (Ob’iali moiu dushu svetlye pechali)
Prize for Best Script: Zul’fikar Musakov for The House under the Curved Moon (Dom pod krivoi lunoi / Oi ostidagi khovli)
Prize for Best Cinematography:  Abduvakhid Ganiev for Silence (Sukunat / aka The Actress)
Prize for Best Actress: Il’mira Rakhimdzhanova for her role as Zabarkhad in the film of the same title.
Prize for Best Actor: Dzhavahir Kasymov for the role of the sergeant Ziyodov in the film The 18th Square (18-i kvadrat)
Special Mention of the Jury “For mastering a genre” to Bakhrom Yakubov for the film Super-Bride (Super-kelinchak)
Special Jury Prize “For a brilliant debut” to Mardzhona Shavkatova as performer of the lead role of Oydinoi in the film of the same title.
The prize of the Organizing Committee of the Festival “For contribution to national motion picture arts” was awarded to the People’s Artist of the Republic Uzbekistan, the filmmaker Ravil Batyrov.

Gulbara Tolomushova
Bishkek

Gulbara Tolomushova© 2009

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