KinoKultura: Issue 30 (2010)

The Sunset of a Patriarchal Era: Eurasia 2010

By Gul'bara Tolomushova (Bishkek)

Living in Kyrgyzstan—one of five Central-Asian “-stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and currently experiencing all the pluses and minuses of the triumph of matriarchy in the consciousness of its people—you begin to fathom how unique this situation is: since April 2010 Kyrgyzstan has its first female president, Roza Otunbaeva. In the neighboring countries different processes are at work, aimed more at the maintenance of stability and order of the patriarchal system strongly embedded in Soviet doctrines. 

In this sense it is probably no coincidence that several competition films of the VI Eurasia IFF presented the waning of the great, Soviet, epoch: noble, old men have lived through the twenty years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are still quite strong and want to achieve much. But the heavens have pronounced their supreme verdict: the epoch of the fathers of glasnost and perestroika has come to an end.

true noonLet us look at the heroes of this bygone era: there is Kirill Ivanovich, an ethnic Russian meteorologist who is stuck at the weather station in a remote Tajik-Uzbek kishlak in the film True Noon (Istinnyi polden’, Tajikistan 2009, dir. Nosir Saidov); there is the rais (boss or director), the former chairman of a collective farm in the film The Water (Suv Yoqualab, also titled Where the Waters of Sky and Earth Flow Together; Uzbekistan 2009, dir. Djakhangir Kasymov); there is Bobo (Uzbek for “grand-dad”), the Uzbek veteran of the Great Patriotic War who goes to Moscow in search for his grandson in the film Gastarbeiter (Russia and Uzbekistan 2010, dir. Yusup Razykov). Until the final moments, each of them bears a personal responsibility for the destiny of the younger members of society—either family or local community. At the cost of his own life, Kirill Ivanovich ensures the happiness of a young Tajik couple; Bobo is withdrawn and silent, a patient and self-restrained man, who courageously endures all the difficulties of his journey. In the end he dies, having had time to make the right choice; and Rais, the father of two grown-up sons, is also a kind, strong man, who dies without having had the time to complete one important task in his life.

In the figures of Rais and Bobo we see two types of Uzbek patriarchs. Rais is the dominating type, representing authority, while Bobo is a mysterious, unpredictable and taciturn man. They are both strong in mind and body, and will not simply surrender without putting up a fight: they go to the bitter end. But fate disposes in its own way. If the pater soveticus cannot find rest, he is artificially eliminated from the game, or the plot. Both heroes die at the moment when they realize the futility of their efforts to influence the situation. They cannot effect any change any more. The time of the pater soveticus has gone.

waterRais finds this difficult to believe: he has got used to be on top, in the literal sense. Until his very last day he continues to feel responsible for his fellow citizens in his native kishlak, riding along on his warrior-horse. For the time being, Rais cannot be accused of anything: his reputation is untainted and he makes only fair decisions. Rais has set himself a very simple, pro-Soviet task: to distribute evenly the precious water to irrigate the dried-up gardens and yards of his native kishlak. He believes that if he channels the water with old, good methods (a shovel and a pick) from the single source into the numerous aryks (canals) and streamlets, there will be enough for everybody. The question about other (more modern) ways of resolving the water problem does not even occur to him. He never thinks of teaching his fellow citizens to initiate the process of water allocation themselves, even if among a hundred absurd offers there may only be one effective and progressive proposal.

Rais sticks to his views inherited from an era that has gone; his authority does not bring about a good solution to the problem. Weakened, he says goodbye to his beloved tree, the witness of his personal ups and downs. He silently slips onto the ground, closing his eyes forever. At this moment a torrential rain starts: the gardens and yards are saved. The scriptwriter, the well-known Uzbek author Erkin Agzam, enjoys quite a high demand in Uzbek cinema today. He is wise and crafty, but he is also an ambiguous man: he stands literally between sword and anvil. On the one hand, Agzam belongs to the all-comprehending Uzbek intelligentsia, which prefers to be silent; on the other, he has access to the state apparatus and the ruling political elite of Uzbekistan. When members of the Uzbek government watched the film, they immediately remarked upon the existential parallel between Rais and the Uzbek president. Yet—to give them their due—they did not ban thes film, but simply decided on a limited release and no television screenings at prime time. And really, the clever Erkin Agzam sends a straight message: the time when Rais was a powerful man has passed. But the author does not criticize him at all: Agzam simply ascertains that the era of the kind Rais has been replaced by another epoch with other people who will not mount their horses to supervise their fellow citizens.

gastarbeitBobo (Sadyk) in Gastarbeiter faces another problem: he has decided to go to the distant Moscow to find his missing grandson Oman. His ticket is paid for by an Uzbek drugs-baron: in exchange, Bobo has to deliver a bag “with goods” to its destination. The drugs-baron understands that the veteran of Great Patriotic War will not be held up at customs: his service in battle serves as a free pass for an unobstructed border passage. On arrival in Moscow, it transpires that borders can be crossed easily, while it is next to impossible to navigate in the Russian capital and its suburbs without assistance. Help comes from the prostitute Vika. Admiring the masterful performance of the young actress Dar’ia Gorshkaleva (who received the award for Best Actress), we realize a trajectory of the task that Yusup Razykov put before her. In our reversed world the prostitute is a woman with a man’s consciousness. Precisely in this context we should see the heroine of Gorshkaleva, desperately struggling with the hard labor of everyday life. When Vika offers Bobo help, she takes on an enormous responsibility: she becomes the conductor for the helpless, but stubborn Bobo in the jungle of modern Russian reality.

The Uzbek women in the films The Water and Gastarbeiter remain on the periphery of the plot. In the patriarchal system of Uzbekistan they have no say, but at the same time Uzbek men find both shelter and understanding in the warm and prosperous houses of Russian women, and can always lean on the shoulders of such girls as Vika. In Gastarbeiter there are several key points of support which allow migrants to take their stand in the hard struggle for a piece of bread in a foreign land: first, the unforgettable image of the mother, which appears during such touching scenes as the sad song at supper; second, the memory of the distant native land through the concrete presence of some objects in the house of the Russian woman who has grown so fond of Oman: the clay pipe which Oman has brought from Uzbekistan. He taught the woman’s boy how to play the pipe, and the boy will not give up this simple toy whistle. Through the sounds of lingering melancholy played in the clay whistle, Bobo finds the house where Oman has found shelter. Bobo pays attention to the fact that his grandson’s Russian wife is pregnant. He also notices a huge spot on her cheek – the same as that on the cheek of Bobo’s daughter, Oman’s mother. Bobo understands that Oman has found a new home, a new support in life; he has found a new motherland. Once he realized all this, Bobo closes his eyes for good.

strayedAnother aspect of the image of the patriarch features in Nosir Saidov’s True Noon. Here it is an ethnic Russian, who manages the meteorological station of the remote kishlak Safedobi. Kirill Ivanovich’s wife and children have left long ago and returned to Russia. But Kirill Ivanovich cannot leave the station without supervision. He shares his knowledge with the Tajik girl Nilufar, the daughter of the local resident Pirnazar. The girl is quite capable and easily assimilates the lessons of her teacher. Nilufar is grateful to Kirill Ivanovich for the trust he places in her, and she holds him in the same esteem as her own father, calling him “dad”. Nilufar has a fiancé, the son of the Uzbek Salim. But one day a barbed wire fence is set up in the middle of the native kishlak, and the border is soon reinforced through landmines. The authorities inform the villagers that henceforth this is a border between two independent states. The bright future for the Uzbek groom and the Tajik bride are suddenly called into question. The prospects of Kirill Ivanovich’s departure for Russia seem murky. The local population on both sides of the border begins to panic. The heads of the family—the Tajik Pirnazar and the Uzbek Salim—also panic, and only Kirill Ivanovich stays calm and judicious. He finds a way out of the situation and helps the lovers celebrate their wedding. He himself—the noble knight—perishes in the name of their happiness.

True Noon is a positive, bright film, even if it is made in the old-fashioned style of Soviet cinema with the motto: Destruction in the Name of Rebirth. Unexpectedly progressive is the filmmaker’s choice to show a very young girl who is, perhaps, the only local resident of the kishlak not to panic and who looks ahead with confidence. It is obvious that the source of this confidence (apart from other virtues) is the sturdy knowledge that she has received from her Russian father-teacher.

svetakeAnother significant theme of the competition program concerns the life of little, simple people and their struggle (or not) for the best share in life. I shall here focus on two important films of Eurasia for this trend: Hair (Saç, Turkey 2010, dir Tayfun Pirselimoglu) and Light Thief (Svet-ake, Kyrgyzstan 2010, with Germany, France, Holland, dir. Aktan Arym Kubat). In both films simple, not wealthy people are shown. The protagonist of The Light Thief is positive: he has a family—a wife and four daughters and dreams of a son. He also has a greater purpose in life: to achieve something, in his case the self-made wind power generator, which could supply electricity for the entire village. Hamdi of Hair is depressed: he has no family, no dream. He does not even know how to act with a woman he likes. Hair is replete with tragedy, which stems from the hero’s predicament: he is terminally ill. He is full of tenderness and compassion for the unfortunate, strange and stifled woman. Tayfun Pirselimoglu received the NETPAC award (jointly with the Azerbaijani film The 40th Door, dir. Elchin Musaoglu).

aktanThe Kyrgyz director Aktan Arym Kubat twice climbed onto the stage during the closing ceremony of the VI Eurasia IFF: first, he received the FIPRESCI prize, and at the end of the ceremony the main jury’s president, the Hollywood actor Billy Zane, solemnly announced that the festival’s Grand Prix went to the Kyrgyz film The Light Thief. At the centre of the film stands the good-natured electrician Mister Light, displaying the most positive features of the Kyrgyz people: honesty, decency, diligence, sharpness, and an aversion against harm, injustice, and tyranny. Such people as Mister Light can be called “the salt of the land”, because our country is held in place and stopped from rolling down a hill precisely by such people. Without abandoning his position as the creator of exclusive, art-house cinema, Aktan Arym Kubat has made a harsh film. Masterfully and in real time the director presents the uneasy conditions in Kyrgyzstan today. He reveals the threshold of pain in the souls of the simple people, in whose life light never seems to shine. But Mister Light overcomes all the misfortunes and adversities, shocks and horrors. He realizes his beautiful dream and gives his fellow countrymen hope. The thief of light becomes the creator of light. Now his people are not threatened by eternal darkness any more.

The remaining nominations of the jury were distributed as follows: the prize for Best Direction went to Pelin Esmer (Turkey) for the film From 10 to 11(11'e 10 kala). At the centre of this film stands the image of an old collector who tries to keep the material and non-material heritage of time. The prize for Best Actor went to the well-known Russian actor Andrei Merzlikin for his excellent performance in the lead role of the film Strayed (Zabliudivshiisia, Kazakhstan 2010, dir. Farkhat Sharipov). Merzlikin created the image of a loser who cost tries to keep his face in a bad game at all cost. The prize for the festival’s discovery was awarded to the Tatar actress Rezeda Khadiullina for her role of the young woman Bibinur (in the film of the same title, Tatarstan, 2010, dir. Iurii Feting). Feting presented a surprisingly strong image of Bibinur at three stages in life: as a child, a young woman and as the old Bibinur; Rezeda played the young woman. Even though the heroine is physically fragile and tiny, she is not despondent, stoically coping with the burdens and misfortunes of life and displaying a philosophically attitude.

At the end of the ceremony the well-known Hollywood actor and director Kevin Costner appeared on stage for a concert with his band. The hall of the Lermontov Theatre in Almaty was filled by the charisma of the American actor, and the young people in the audience stood in the aisles and wings, cheerfully hopping along.

Gul'bara Tolomushova

Gul'bara Tolomushova © 2010

Comment on this article via the LJ Forum