Issue 33 (2011)
Yolkin Tuychiev: P.S. (Uzbekistan, 2010)
reviewed by Irene Ulman © 2011
A half-asleep drunk opines that “our modern life is just a postscript of something divine;” indeed, we are being asked to look for higher planes in this half-serious parable of modern life. P.S. is about a clash of civilizations that results in confusion, even chaos. These are big themes and Tuychiev, who directed and wrote the screenplay for the film, tackles them by mixing genres. P.S. is a kind of comedy with tragic overtones, exploring serious ideas without weighing too much on our psyche.
Hamid (Nazim Tulyahojaev), a village TV mechanic, is a troubled man, convinced that he is somehow greater than his mundane surroundings. He is morose, intense and solitary, none of which seems to detract from his popularity, largely because his TV- and antenna-fixing skills are too much in demand in the local district. The apparent source of Hamid’s trouble is his younger brother Hamdan (Mirmahsud Okhunov), who does everything possible to stay away from his village, family and tradition. His mother, dismayed by her younger son’s prodigal behavior, endlessly nags the elder brother to bring him home so he can settle down and get a wife.
Hamdan loves the fast lane and revels in the drunken joys of city life. He also lectures on the history of western drama, providing the film with ample room for tossing around a great number of references to antiquity. The dry, rocky landscape helps set the scene for this age-old tale of two brothers. Once Hamdan infects his older brother with talk of Minotaur, the labyrinth, Cain and Abel and much more, Hamid begins to re-enact these archetypal conflicts, gradually descending into madness. There is a looming threat of fratricide as the film sheds its comic conventions, but in the end Tuychiev settles for a comic resolution in the form of reconciliation and balance restored.
Modern times and foreign influences encroaching on core Uzbek values is a thematic thread that runs through Tuychiev’s other films. In Silence (Sukunat, 2008) an actress becomes so successful that her family prefer her screen persona to the real thing. Poyma-Poy (2009), a romantic comedy morphing into melodrama, is about a young man whose snobbish parents cannot accept his choice of a girl from a more traditional background and cringe when she dons harem pants and a headscarf once she becomes a wife.
With P.S. Tuychiev has again made a film that shows something of today’s Uzbekistan in transition, though he has voiced his concern not so much with the “real” Uzbekistan but with the idea of modernity eroding the deeper meaning in our lives.
What I wanted to show in this film is not the real Uzbekistan, but that a malicious intention will come to the fore if you don’t pay attention to your life. A story of Minotaur is mentioned. What the younger brother talks about are just words, but the elder brother takes those words emotionally as his own experience, and a conflict arises. Words to the younger brother have become empty, but they are very real for the elder brother.
Much of P.S. seems to reinforce simple values, like moderation: do not reject your customs and traditions; removing yourself from family and duty upsets the natural balance (it also upsets your older brother who becomes consumed by envy and hatred). To Tuychiev’s credit, the take on these issues is not all black and white: Hamid is thrown off balance partly because he has hitherto accepted his lot unquestioningly, though seethingly. In the end, the tables turn. Hamdan is back home and has taken on his brother Hamid’s intense demeanor. His Dionysian joie de vivre is gone, he plays endless chess games with Hamid in the pub and complains of boredom. Meanwhile, Hamid looks satisfied. So has he fulfilled his mission and killed his brother’s spirit?
The best moments in the film are those that bring to life Uzbek customs and rituals, but the characters themselves remain two-dimensional. The women are no more than a backdrop. Depending on the situation, they nag or they are frightened or shocked. Hamdan’s Russian-speaking girlfriend objects loudly to Hamid’s unceremonious incursion into her apartment to assault her boyfriend, but she is not important enough to appear on screen. The conflict between Hamid and Hamdan represents a clash of two sets of values rather than a real-life rift between flesh-and-blood brothers. To be fair, maybe the characters come alive in the dialogue, but the film’s subtitles are of such poor quality that, without knowledge of the Uzbek language and special insights into Uzbek culture, the divide is hard to cross.
Some of the stylistic devices have not quite gelled. The soaring harmonies of Mozart’s “Requiem” may be there to point to Hamid’s dark premonitions and manic delusions, but the true effect of the music is dubious. It actually prevents the film from being more of a comedy, where depth of character may not have been as much of an issue. On the other hand, in a more integrated metaphor, a print of “Mona Lisa” hangs on the dilapidated wall of a rural inn—a divine presence in a pub, a cliché of western civilisation.
Yolkin Tuychiev has been noted at a number of festivals, including the Moscow International Film Festival and Kinoshock. In 2006 The Spring (Chashma) took the top prize in the Perspectives competition of the Moscow IFF. P.S. screened at the 17th International Festival of Asian Cinema in Vesoul, France (2011), where Tuychiev shared the Golden Cyclo Award with China’s Liu Hao. At the same festival he also received the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) prize. A graduate of the M. Uyghur Memorial Tashkent State Institute of Arts, who also studied screenwriting in Moscow, Tuychiev seems keenly aware of his rich inheritance. There are echoes here of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (Offret, 1986), while a couple of the lush carpeted scenes in P.S. hail from Sergo Parajanov. The cinematic references are not limited to Russian films: a ceiling fan casting shadows on Hamdan’s moody figure brings to mind Francis Ford Coppola’s apocalyptic vision. And, in a postscript to the film, in what feels like a Ioseliani-style joke, the print of “Mona Lisa” (which turns out to be a soiled calendar) falls to the ground.
Still, paying homage to the masters does not make a masterful film. As a whole, P.S. is not cohesive enough to pull it off. It aspires to depth and scale but falls flat because its elements are not quite strong enough.
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1] 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival: Winds of Asia “P.S” interview with Yolkin Tuychiev 28 October 2010.
P.S., Uzbekistan, 2010
85 mins, color
Director: Yolkin Tuychiev
Script: Yolkin Tuychiev
DoP: Rustam Murodov
Production designer: Akmal Saidov
Editor: Olmashon Temirova
Cast: Nazim Tulyahojaev, Mirmahsud Ohunov, Aziza Begmatova, Boir Holmirzayev, Alisher Otaboev
Production Company: Filmstudio Uzbekfilm
Yolkin Tuychiev: P.S. (Uzbekistan, 2010)
reviewed by Irene Ulman © 2011