Issue 30 (2010)

Aktan Arym Kubat: The Light Thief (Svet Ake, 2010)

reviewed by Aliya Moldalieva © 2010

Light, Sex and Politics

Aktan Arym Kubat declared his plans for making The Light Thief back in 2005, promising that the script would be born on the set. Then it transpired that the film would be based on a script written by Arym Kubat himself, in collaboration with Talip Ibraimov. In the spring of 2010 the film The Light Thief was finally shown to the world.

svetakeThe film’s protagonist is Mister Light (played by Aktan Arym Kubat himself), a local electrician. He helps the poor local residents who do not have the means to pay their electricity bills by slowing down their electric meters. Hence the English title.

The plot, the themes and ideas of the film can be captures in a few words: light, sex and politics. Light, electricity—this is what the protagonist works with. He has a dream: to construct small power stations that use the wind to generate electricity. As for sex and eroticism, these themes are present in all of Arym Kubat’s films or scripts—maybe even excessively in Kelin (dir. E. Tursunov, 2009)—and have become part of his trademark. In his new film eroticism is present the episodes when the wife bathes her naked husband; when the girl dances an eastern dance in the yurt before stripping naked for the visitors, some Chinese businessmen, in order to participate in a game with the title “untie the camel”, where the man should penetrate the woman. And politics: the events of the film are set against the background of the Tulip Revolutions in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005: the protagonists hear about it on the radio and watch the events on TV. Revolutionaries with flags drive past the kishlak on their truck, taking the main road to the capital. And the revolution has a direct effect on the life of the villagers: their life is now informally governed by the oligarch Bekzat, one of the pseudo-veterans of the March events.

svetakeThe plot is simple: the protagonist, who represents the people, is disappointed in the local oligarch Bekzat, who represents the mighty of this world, and enters into a conflict with him; as a result, he perishes. However, the light bulb that is switched on at the film’s end symbolizes that the ideas of Svet Ake, of a simple and decent man, continue to live on. Thus good ultimately triumphs and the people have the last say.

But the film The Light Thief does not live up to the level of a manifesto of civil protest. It does not give the impression of wholeness: the events seem invented, artificially constructed, and tied to the main plotline, just as the character of Mister Light initially seemed comical.

Why, for example, this coarse humour? After getting drunk, Mister Light asks his friend Mansur to make his wife pregnant with a boy (the family has four girls). In response Mansur suggests that the electrician should expose himself to a discharge of electricity: after that, he would be able to have a son. Mister Light follows his advice and climbs onto a pylon, is electrocuted and loses consciousness. When he opens his eyes, he is overcome by love. This episode is almost entirely independent from the main narrative and not linked in. If the director had gone down this route further, the film might have benefited from a clearer storyline that would have shown what precisely the filmmaker wanted to say.
svetakeArym Kubat’s films have been appreciated for their poetry. In this case, he has abandoned poetry, touched upon comedy, but not quite made a socio-political film. He tried to reflect on the situation in his country and the problems with the availability of electricity. But he did so in an unpersuasive and heavy-handed manner. Moreover, the film came simply too late: in 2010 the anti-presidential mood in Kyrgyzstan reached its apogee and led to another revolution: the April Revolution. The world premier of The Light Thief took place in May. Arym Kubat’s film was late by some two months. Actually, the film had not quite been shot yet and was already out of date. However, the film is not intended as a statement of civil protest against political reality: the conflict it portrays is crumpled, muffled, and far from clear-cut. The use of documentary footage from the events of 25 March 2005 and the reference to the popular unrest seem to be just bad taste. The impression is given that the director used these frames to brag to the world: look how much pure adrenaline there was!

Ultimately, the director has created an impartial portrait of his country and its people: wild customs, wild entertainment. Maybe all this would be a lot better if he had limited himself to sex and electricity. Without politics.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Aliya Moldalieva

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The Light Thief, Kyrgyzstan, France, Germany, Netherlands, 2010
Color, 80 min.
Director: Aktan Arym Kubat
Scriptwriters: Aktan Arym Kubat, Talip Ibraimov
Director of Photography: Hassan Kydyraliev
Cast: Aktan Arym Kubat, Taalaikan Abazova, Askat Sulaimanov, Asan Amanov, Stanbek Toichubaev
Production: Pallas Film, Oy Art, A.S.A.P Films, Volya Films
Producers: Altynai Koichumanova, Cedomir Kolar, Thanassis Karathanos, Marc Baschet, Karl Baumgartner, Denis Vaslin

Aktan Arym Kubat: The Light Thief (Svet Ake, 2010)

reviewed by Aliya Moldalieva © 2010