Issue 28 (2010)

Nargiza Mamatkulova: Earrings (Ser’gi / Sőikő, Kyrgyzstan, 2010)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2010

A Different Nuance of Silence

 “In the most responsible moments of life, the Kyrgyz people hardly speak; instead, they instinctively rely on signs and gestures.” (From my review of Temir Birnazarov’s film Earrings [Syrga, 2003])

“The Kyrgyz men have a tradition: to give the girl they like a pair of earrings. If she accepts them, it means that she agrees to marry. If she does not accept them, it means she refuses the offer of the Dzhigit.” (Temir Birnazarov in the prologue of his film Earrings, 2003)

The short film Earrings, directed  by Nargiza Mamatkulova, was filmed in the south of Kyrgyzstan, in Batkensk, a region clamped between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Therefore, its color scheme reflects the traditional southern Kyrgyz style: bright, expressive, with the color red prevailing in all its shades. 

Mamatkulova’s new film is a piece of “haute couture.” I knew about the film in the making for a long time, when it was still under its working titles “Guest,” and then “Doll.” Later, the director decided to give the film the capacious and exact title Earrings. The first two titles suggest the initial stages of the director’s intent: to show the Kyrgyz model of the creation of a family.

mamatkulovaTraditionally, the Kyrgyz people show serious concern about the institution of marriage. They take a long time to carefully choose a match for their son or daughter. They make various preparations, studying the family tree, physical appearance and household skills, which are critically evaluated. The intellectual level of the potential marriage candidates also plays no small part in this important decision. Moreover, they do not ignore the feelings the two young people develop for each other, particularly on the day of their first formal acquaintance. Thus, the basis of trust is formed, which eventually develops into love.

On the level of plot, the film tells of the unexpected arrival of an old friend of the mistress of the house in a family with a girl who has reached marriage age. The guest is accompanied by her son. The woman departs, leaving the son to help with the household. The young man and the girl work together, putting new plaster on the house, but they are embarrassed, and do not converse. However, an inquisitive and timid dialogue of looks is established between them.

Mamatkulova thus expresses the idea of the film: “without words, laconically, with the use of metaphors from national poetry,” as she explains it, to inform the spectator of the simple idea of making bridges of mutual understanding between people, so they may be inspired to respect and trust each other. Herein lies the precious seed of eternal love: the secret dream of many people.

The protagonists of Earrings are pure and spiritual in their execution of the demanding task that Mamatkulova assigns to them. The space of the film is filled by a sacred silence. For the whole day that the young man and the girl are next to each other, they do not speak a word. The dialogue between them happens invisibly, through their hidden observation of each other. At the level of new sensations, painful expectations and exciting experiences, they live through the entire scale of new feelings, learn about the finest nuances of their exciting experiences and painful expectations. The proverb is right: the more you are silent, the better you recognize and understand. It is also said that silence is wisdom. Then there is no need to explain anything to each other: in the sacred silence, one understands the other through a fleeting glance. Everything is obvious.

In this film, the lips of only one character do not remain closed—those of the young man’s mother. She is, as it were, the medium that voices the traditional message of ancestors from time immemorial. Thank God, having convinced herself that her mission is accomplished and ensured that it will develop as well as one could wish, the woman soon departs. The space of the film is again filled with sacred silence.

In terms of composition, the film is flawless. Every frame is thought through precisely and superbly shot. The creative team has made a tremendous artistic decision. Since the protagonists are silent all the time, everything the spectator sees in the frame must speak for them: the close-ups of characters, their comprehending and embarrassed smiles, sharp turns of the head, their slowed-down movements or freezes. The film also skillfully uses unusual subject-symbols, such as a guardian doll, the earrings, a hollow pumpkin as a cage for a quail, and some kitchen utensils. Therefore, short and extremely short sequences prevail.

Let us look, for example, at the amazingly staged scene of the tea drinking, in which the director skillfully uses signs to transmit her message. The guests put a large basket on the low table and display the gifts for the landlady. In the frame we see a close-up of the woman’s hands, with several massive rings, untying the knots of the bundle with the gifts. The magnificence of a traditional southern meal unfolds: five appetizingly round flat cakes, five large red apples, five apples of yellow shades and some juicy grapes. Then, in a wide-angle shot, we see that the low table with this splendid food is laid on the Iwan (a kind of patio), traditionally located in the center of the courtyard, under a sprawling tree. There sit the landlady with the daughter-for-marriage and the guest with her son. The landlady’s younger daughter lightly balances herself along a beam and seats herself between the guest and the sister, who is already pouring the first cup of tea for the guest.

sergiAnother close-up follows: the younger sister listens attentively to the guests: “So, I decided to look in on your market, but I don’t know the way there…”. A mid-range shot of the young man who, having lowered his head, takes a bite off the flat cake. He, too, is attentive, and with a concern he can hardly hide, listens to his mother. The son knows the underlying reason for this visit, but he does not know the details or the nuances, although he realizes that the mother is skilful and subtle in her dealings, moving prudently and carefully towards her aim. The following long shot allows us to see all the characters on the set at once. The guest continues to coo: “Maybe your daughter could accompany us?”

Another close-up of the girl, who with natural interest listens to the woman: “And then my son could help you.” At these words the girl quickly moves her eyes from the mother to the son. In a medium-range shot the young man catches her gaze and quickly lowers his eyes. The girl looks at him. The two young people sit opposite each other, and the actress expressively works with the left part of her back. Again this shot is very brief, but very articulate. Another close-up shows the younger sister, who reads the whole situation clearly and easily. She smiles, bites into the cake, and slowly moves her gaze from the young man to her sister. Then a medium shot of the young man who has frozen in confusion; another short medium shot of the mistress of the house: mysteriously smiling, she sips her tea from a bowl. Thus could one describe every sequence of this remarkable film. In total there are sixty-one.

It is a huge pleasure to watch the development of the plot through the movement of impulses in the protagonists’ souls. When the young man makes his decision, placing the earrings for the engagement on the guardian doll, he leaves quietly to adjust himself to his new role as groom. The pair has to wait a certain time to prepare for the wedding that will finally and irrevocably unite them through the marriage vow.

All these pleasant turns come about thanks to the mother’s wisdom. Thus it is custom that—caring for the future of their offspring—mothers organize everything as best they can. Amazingly, Mamatkulova presents two types of Kyrgyz matriarchs: the active and enterprising mother of the young man and the silent, introverted mother of the girl. There is a force emanating from the active and vital matriarch, but considerable energy is also evident in the gentle, pliable, hardworking and staunch nature of the majority of our women, personified by the girl’s mother.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Gulbara Tolomushova
Bishkek

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Nargiza Mamatkulova
Born 5 June 1983 in Bishkek. Graduated in 2007 from the Radio, TV and Film Arts section of the Faculty of Communications, the Kyrgyz-Turkish University Manas, where she is now a postgraduate student. In 2008 participated in the Talent Campus of the Berlin IFF.
Filmography: I want to live (doc., 9 min., 2007); Toptash (short, 2007); Earrings (short, 2010)


Earrings, Kyrgyzstan, 12 March 2010
Script, director and editor: Nargiza Mamatkulova
Cinematography: Almaz Supataev
Production Design: Orozbai Absattarov
Sound: Ali Akhmadeev
Music: “Akmaktym” performed by Asylbek Nasirdinov from the album Muundan muunga Cast: Meerim Turarova and Argen Kenesh
Production: KTU Manas, Kyrgyzfilm, with the support of Swiss Management for Development and Cooperation in the KR and the participation of Internews/kg
Duration: 15 minutes
Format: DVCam

Nargiza Mamatkulova: Earrings (Ser’gi / Sőikő, Kyrgyzstan, 2010)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2010

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