Issue 30 (2010)

Farkhat Sharipov: Tale of the Pink Bunny (Skaz o rozovom zaitse, 2010)

reviewed by Tatiana Bakina © 2010


bunnyDuring the last two years, the Kazakhfilm studio has definitely experienced an upturn. Among its projects for 2010, a patriotic-epic TV show, Zhas Ulan, and a musical fairy-tale, Astana—My Love (Astana—liubov' moia), have already have been completed, while the feature films The Sky of My Childhood (Nebo moego detstva), Late Love (Pozdnaia liubov’), and Liquidator (Likvidator) are currently in production. Tale of the Pink Bunny is among those films already completed, and is the first feature film of director Farkhat Sharipov (b. 1983), a graduate of the New York Film Academy (Los Angeles branch) and KAZNAI (Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts in Almaty). Sharipov is known within the Kazakh film community for his short films, primarily for his graduate work Happy and Unhappy (Schastlivyi i neschastnyi). He also wrote the screenplay for Tale of the Pink Bunny, which premiered on 26 August 2010 in Almaty and screened in competition at the VI Eurasia IFF in September 2010.

bunnyTale of the Pink Bunny was written as a mainstream teen movie about the contemporary youth of Almaty. As Sharipov stated in one of his interviews: “There will be no morals or lectures here. We don’t want to preach to anyone, we just want to show our generation” (Amirhan). Thus, the film claims to be something akin to a “realistic portrait” without a hidden subtext: “It’s an action movie, a show […]. Our goal is for the viewer to enjoy watching the film in the theatre.  But if he wants to draw some moral conclusions, then it means that we have achieved a goal above and beyond what we anticipated” (Pel’ts).

bunnyThe plot structure is not complex at first sight. A young man, Erlan, moves to the big city to study at the university. But in Almaty he faces the cruel circumstances of urban life: people are selfish, corrupt, small-minded, and interested only in money and power. Erlan rents an apartment, finds a job, and tries to match the pace of life in Almaty, or “to breathe in the same rhythm as the city does” (the catchphrase of the movie). But this is much harder than Erlan had imagined. After witnessing a car accident and calling an ambulance, he becomes the target of the city’s “new Kazakhs.” In a matter of days he experiences more problems than he ever could have imagined.

bunnyLuckily, while working the night shift dressed as a big, pink promotional rabbit, Erlan meets Igor, a member of Kazakhstan’s gilded youth, who helps him solve most of his problems. Erlan then begins an affair with the rich and beautiful Dzheka, despite the social differences between them. He also befriends poor plodders living together in a single apartment, ready to take any job offered to them. Still, the influence of Igor and his world cause Erlan to become pretentious, and he himself begins to behave like a member of the gilded youth. As part of these new activities he offers a friend money in exchange for doing ten years in prison for a crime he did not commit.   

bunnyBut this new way of life ends suddenly and ironically for Erlan. He narrowly escapes a prison sentence, just like his friend whom he persuaded to accept the bribe. This is the film’s first coincidence. Shortly after, Erlan and Igor witness a suicide and are both mistakenly suspected of murder. When a “new Kazakh” tries to convince Erlan to confess the murder to save Igor, it turns out to be the same bandit who has been after him all along after he was witness to a car accident.  This is the second coincidence. Yet again, it is only thanks to happenstance that Erlan escapes trouble: a he had inadvertently recorded the suicide on his cell phone, thus proving his and Igor’s innocence. This video is an exact replica of the first scene of the film, giving the storyline a circular structure.

bunnyExpensive cars, élite parties, a love story, and a hint of philosophy, on the one hand; and bitter reality on the other—this is the primary opposition that drives Tale of the Pink Bunny. But this juxtaposition is not surprising, given Sharipov’s own expectations for his film. A Hollywood pattern has been applied to Kazakh reality, and the end product is certain to be successful with youth audiences. In this way, the film’s plot and main themes are not novel.: the collision between different social classes, a love story between a rich, beautiful girl (or a rich, handsome man) and an ordinary pauper are the formulae for a number of movies, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954) to James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) and Nick Cassavetes’s Notebook (2004). But if these movies focused more on the love story, in the Tale of Pink Bunny the relationship between Dzheka and Erlan is secondary to the opposition between social classes and their respective worlds.

bunnyWithin this formula, the visual structure of Tale of the Pink Bunny stands out as unnatural. Special effects are combined with careless editing in several scenes. The film claims to be stylized like a Hollywood teen movie, but cannot reach that level of professionalism, looking instead like a low-budget amateur film in places. In fact, the film’s budget totaled $500,000. “I think that for Kazakhstan, a budget of $500,000 is that happy medium that allows one to make a watchable [smotribel'nyi] and commercially successful film,” Sharipov noted in an interview (Amirhan). It is puzzling, therefore, why the film is not that “watchable,” despite Sharipov’s expectations with such a budget.  Perhaps $500,000 would have been enough had the money been spent in others ways: on editing, for instance, instead of Porsche cars.

bunnyThe film’s title refers literally to the pink bunny that Erlan plays for his advertising job, where he works in a pink bunny costume. But it also has a more symbolic meaning. On the one hand, the pink bunny is a costume, a mask. Everyone wears a mask to hide his true emotions, and under this mask lies a cruel reality. Though the mask smiles, when Erlan removes it we see his sad and exhausted face. In this way the film highlights the contrast of two worlds, with Erlan living between them. He can put on any mask, but he will always remain the same person.

Another meaning of the pink bunny imagery is even more straightforward. Erlan sees the world through rose-colored glasses, and this vision is again contrasted with the real colors of life. The pink bunny is therefore a link between these two worlds—between different social classes and attitudes. When he receives money, Erlan puts on a fake, unnatural mask and begins to judge the world though his rose-colored glasses. It is only when he himself faces the bitter reality of life that things become clear to him. At the end of the film, Erlan sits in his pink bunny costume with his mask removed, struggling between two worlds. As he imagines his future as a prisoner he begins to understand the gravity of his actions. Ultimately, Erlan finds happiness only when he ends up exactly where he started, lucky to be alive and free. 

posterWhile keeping in mind Sharipov’s statement about the film as a “realistic portrait,” it is interesting to note that the story is hardly about the life of an average Kazakh. What happens to Erlan is far from ordinary, and the two different worlds he acknowledges are not in constant conflict in real life as they are shown in the film. While poverty and wealth certainly exist in contemporary Kazakhstan, they do not collide on such a scale. The film’s portrayal of the gilded youth is more reminiscent of a rap video than of the reality of Almaty, while the “new Kazakhs” look like the “new Russians” and Mafiosi of the early nineties.  

The film departs from the tradition of the “Kazakh New Wave,” favoring instead Hollywood cinematic standards. If we were to compare Sharipov’s film with Rashid Nugmanov’s Needle (Igla, 1988), with its definite art-house quality and neo-noir tones, we see that the Tale of the Pink Bunny is without a doubt a mainstream movie.  Here the bitterness of reality is not highlighted, but mentioned only as a contrast to the glamorous life of the gilded youth.  Thus, Sharipov’s film sets itself up as a mainstream action movie with hints at social drama, but lacking the hardboiled drama about a cruel reality from which there is no way out.

The dynamic development of the story is well supplied with music, primarily with Russian rap and instrumental hip-hop, adding to its Hollywood genre feel. While there is no original score, the film is accompanied by the main theme “Mute City” (“Gorod nemoi”), written and performed by the band NAZ, in which the film’s storyline is retold through rap lyrics. This song is heard during the final credits, following the simple inscription: “It’s a kind of happy ending” (“Eto takoi vot kheppi end”).

On Kazakh forums and blogs, Tale of the Pink Bunny has been called the most anticipated and promising Kazakh film of the year. Kazakhfilm arranged several previews for bloggers who received the film well, praising it as a successful and stylish drama. Regardless of its aesthetic and technical flaws, the film is without a doubt a worthy cinematic product in which Hollywood genre standards have been successfully applied to Kazakh reality. And for Kazakh mainstream cinema in general, this is clearly a sign of progress.

 

Tatiana Bakina
Higher School of Economics, Moscow

Comment on this review via the LJ Forum

Works Cited

Amirhan, Aysha. “Farhat Sharipov: “Nasha molodezh' verit tol'ko v den'gi,” Biznes & Vlast' (14 August 2009).

Pel’ts, Nataliia. “‘Skaz o rozovom zaitse’—novoe kazakhstanskoe kino,” Almatinskie prioritety (7 March 2010).


Tale of the Pink Bunny, Kazakhstan, 2010
Color, 106 minutes
Director: Farkhat Sharipov
Screenplay: Farkhat Sharipov
Production Design: Almas Abdulin
Cinematography: Aleksandr Plotnikov
Composer: Timur Kushekov, Aleksei Fuifanov
Original Music: NAZ
Cast: Anuar Nurpeisov, Maksim Akbarov, Karlygash Mukhamedzhanova, Farkhad Abdraimov, Bakhtiiar Kozha, Murat Bisembin, Sajat Isembaev
Producer: Adil Kozhakhmetov
Production: Kazakhfilm

Farkhat Sharipov: Tale of the Pink Bunny (Skaz o rozovom zaitse, 2010)

reviewed by Tatiana Bakina © 2010

Updated: 05 Oct 10