Issue 33 (2011)
Anuar Raibaev: Lave (2009)
reviewed by Ian Garner © 2011
Anuar Raibaev’s Lave is a fast-paced, big-budget gangster film starring homegrown Kazakh talent. Borrowing heavily from American and British crime and heist movies, Lave is Raibaev’s attempt to introduce the glamour and confidence—and thereby the profit—of western film into the traditionally loss-making Kazakh cinema industry.
Raibaev fills the 80-minute film with clichés familiar to fans of the gangster genre: mafia, money and murder are the order of the day. The plot is paint by numbers. Four young residents of Almaty think up a scheme to hoodwink the local mafia boss out of a suitcase of money. In a bungled meeting, they accidentally murder his son and are forced to flee the city with the money. Pursued into the overawing and impressively shot Kazakh wilderness by mafia hitmen, they are eliminated one by one. Eventually Sak (Sabit Mustafa), clearly the most moral of the young men, has an epiphany and chooses to abandon the bag of money and thereby save a young girl, Zhaniya, whom he has met and fallen for during the chase. Moments not occupied by predictably macho dialogue and flimsy philosophising on the nature of being a ‘man’ are filled with extreme violence. Blink and one might miss one of the endless stream of on-screen deaths. This is familiar ground to cinemagoers in Kazakhstan, albeit principally from imported products. Indeed, the Hollywood formula is adhered to slavishly. So much is Raibaev determined to create a Kazakh blockbuster that he even employed a host of American artists and companies for the production to bring a US feel to Kazakh film. Unfortunately, budget restrictions and the brainlessly predictable plot result in a far less satisfying experience.
Lave is mass culture in its purest form. It sells the story that money is the only route to success in 21st century Almaty. The city is populated by upwardly mobile, attractive twenty-somethings who dress in western fashions and speak English. They are after only one thing, plotting to spend the profits from their get-rich-quick scheme on Bentleys, property and women. In spite of a sprinkling of lightweight philosophising—notions of ‘fate’ and the meaning of life—money is the only way out the film really discusses. Sak may give up on riches to get the girl, but that seems rather hypocritical given that he is clearly of fair economic standing to begin with. This epiphany is further ruined by the fact that the lover he attempts to save, apparently murdered by a hitman, miraculously returns in the final shot. While everybody else Sak holds dear dies in the pursuit of riches—a trend designed to shock now popular in Western crime films—Zhaniya’s survival throws out the window any notion that the film suggests that the hunt for money at all costs inevitably ends in the death of traditional family values. A pure sop to an audience hungry for the ubiquitous happy end, this puts into perspective the failings of the film. Raibaev clearly does not believe that Kazakh audiences are ready for a hard-hitting, sincere movie that believes in its own convictions. The film has no artistic statement to make; it is a pure crowd-pleaser.
Although asserting Kazakhstan’s right to produce its own blockbusters—and acknowledging the domestic demand for quality cinema—is entirely valid, the producers seem to have failed to realise that transposing a western model into a Kazakh setting is not what audiences are after. What does Lave offer that, for instance, Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, or the Fast and Furious mega-franchise do not? The car chase scenes and liberal scattering of exploding vehicles fail to spark the imagination when compared to Hollywood equivalents readily available to download for free at the click of a button. Even the most ambitious scenes cannot compete with their imported equivalents: a car chase scene involves just a handful of vehicles where Hollywood throws millions of dollars into every minute of action. Kazakh and Russian audiences familiar with this kind of Hollywood glitz were always likely to be unimpressed with a film that apes that glitz so completely, failing to add any unique Kazakh elements to it. The twist of a domestic cast alone is not enough to make Lave compare favourably. Ironically, the most entertaining moment of the whole affair is the sole ‘Kazakh’ moment: traffic police pull over and fine the heroes in the middle of the desert, hundreds of miles from anywhere. Failure to work into the film’s body native hallmarks results in a jumbled affair: what is the point of Lave? If it was to be a Kazakh gangster film, it fails: one can transpose the action to any city in the world with no changes to the script. If it was to be a thrill-a-minute action adventure, it too fails: Lave does not challenge its western rivals. Unsurprisingly, the film failed to trouble imports in Kazakhstan, and a brief scan of public opinion in the form of online reviews suggests that both Russian and Kazakh audiences were unimpressed. One user sarcastically asks, “Yet another group of ‘real’ guys get mixed up in a bad deal—and the local mafiosi want to kill them?!”. Kazakh audiences are not naïve enough to fall for a sub-par copy of Hollywood action.
The word lave is slang for money. Raibaev’s title unequivocally makes reference to Kazakhstan’s newfound oil wealth and to the new generation of middle-class Kazakhs imbued with ready cash. Lave reminds one that the country is now a follower of American capitalism, not Russian socialism. It is a paean to its new master, both economically and filmically. The sole intention of the movie is, apparently, wealth creation on the part of its producers. Barely a hint of Russia or Kazakhstan is present. The undisguised quotes from Pulp Fiction, from Rocky, from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, even a performance of the Mission Impossible theme on the traditional Kazakh dombra, make it almost difficult to believe this film is not western. The resultant atmosphere is international and universal, not Kazakh.
In the final analysis, perhaps Raibaev’s recreation of the western gangster flick is no bad thing. Perhaps, one speculates, the Kazakh film industry may be tortuously reclaiming its own culture by starting to produce its own blockbusters. Of course, one might expect a truly Kazakh film industry to produce Kazakh-language work. It may only take a few more duds until it is able to create its own modern and popular cinema. Lave is relentlessly competent, but thoroughly uninspiring to a well-versed cinematic audience—although it is admittedly good fun if one is ready to accept its artistic shortcomings and ready oneself for a thrill-a-minute shoot-‘em-up chase through the new, capitalist Kazakhstan.
University of Toronto
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Lave, Kazakhstan, 2009
Color, 86 minutes
Director: Anuar Raibaev
Screenplay: Marina Kunarova
Directory of Photography: Maksim Zadarnovskii
Production Design: Nurbol Zhapakov
Producers: Chingiz Dosmukhambetov, Eltinzhal Turganaliev, Veniamin Fedorov
Cast: Sabit Mustafa, Gabit Mustafa, Erlan Khairushev, Nikita Kazantsev, Karlygash Mukhamedzh
Anuar Raibaev: Lave (2009)
reviewed by Ian Garner © 2011