Issue 48 (2015)

Ernest Abdyjaparov: Taxi and Telephone (Taksi zhana telefon, 2013)

reviewed by Andrei Rogatchevski © 2015

taxiTaxi and Telephone is a charmingly minimalist comedy of Kyrgyz manners about a taxi driver with Frunze (the capital Bishkek’s Soviet name) number plates waiting for his fare next to a coach station, near a coin-operated telephone box, in the middle of a rainy night. The taxi won’t move unless four passengers are found, each paying for him-/herself. The driver and his prospective customers use the phone box from time to time to phone friends and family, and a stationary camera, using a split screen every so often, shows them and their interlocutors on both sides of the line. In harmony with this old-fashioned communication device, the film sports a black-and-white retro look, and all the prices, clothes, hairdos, telephone sets, car brands and even international folk and popular songs heard on the car radio and LP players seem to belong to the 1960s. In fact, the director, born in Frunze in 1961, made the film as a tribute to the time when his parents were young (see Karimova 2013a).

taxiYet Abdyjaparov’s latest picture is more than merely a period piece. It is based on the play The Night Call (Nochnoi zvonok) by the Tajik author and journalist Ato Khamdam (Ato Khamdamovich Khodzhaev, a presidential advisor and an ex-Minister of Culture, known among other things for his historical fiction, co-written with Leonid Chigrin). The play was staged by Abdyjaparov in his own Kyrgyz translation in the Chuy Regional Theatre in 2011 and had a successful run (the film version apparently stems from the director’s desire to preserve the show for posterity and grant it a wider audience; see Sabyrov 2013). The characters speak their native tongue throughout, occasionally breaking into Russian when they refer to positions of authority (e.g., zamministra po importu i eksportu / Deputy Minister for import and export), quote proverbs (Sviato mesto pusto ne byvaet / The throne is never vacant) or quarrel with each other (“Kakaia zhe ty suka!”—“Ot suki slyshu!” / “What a bitch you are!”—“And so are you!”). Still, vintage props aside, those who may have longed to see Abdyjaparov’s take on the 1960s’ Frunze are in for a disappointment: the film’s exteriors are deliberately non-descript and interiors are for the most part either mass-produced or generic. This is because the film’s action could have taken place almost anywhere after the invention of taxis and telephone booths.

taxiThe plot revolves around three unconnected couples, two young ones and one middle-aged, symbolising three possible stages in, or different forms of, a marriage. First, there is the taxi driver and his wife, whom he is in the habit of ringing when there is a spare moment. He badly misses her and their recently born child. Then, there is a womanizing husband who cannot decide who to choose: his wife Zoya or her friend Asya (Zoya has threatened to leave him and turns up at the taxi stand with a suitcase, first asking the taxi driver to take her to Osh, some 380 miles south west of Bishkek, and then asking her husband, by telephone, to forward her the money and papers that she has forgotten). Finally, there is an older couple woken up by a call from two men, friends of the husband (called Mukhtar), who are on their way to Osh via Frunze and ask for permission to come and visit. (Abdyjaparov has reportedly added this storyline to the original play to make a full-length feature.) Mukhtar could not be more welcoming; Mukhtar’s wife could not be more disagreeable. Is Zoya’s marriage beyond repair? How badly will Mukhtar’s marriage suffer because of his loyalty to his friends? Will the taxi ever leave the taxi stand?

abdyjaparovThe universally recognisable situations in which the characters find themselves avoid the danger of looking clichéd thanks to the outstanding performance of the ensemble cast. The film’s irresistible cross-cultural appeal is in reverse proportion to its meagre budget. Since its stylish premiere at the Manas cinema in Bishkek on 4 July 2013, involving a retro disco in period clothes (for a report, see Karimova 2013b), it has been invited to international festivals in venues as remote from each other as Tallinn, Tromsø (Norway), Adana (Turkey) and Busan (South Korea), to name but a few. KyrgyzClub—an association of Kyrgyz expats—arranged public screenings of the film in Istanbul, Ankara, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur, Edmonton, Moscow, Beijing and Naples. The rest of the world has some catching up to do.

Andrei Rogatchevski
University of Tromsø

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Works Cited

Gul’chekhra Karimova (2013a), “V nachale iiulia Ernest Abdyjaparov prezentuet novyi fil’m Taksi i telefon,” Vechernii Bishkek, 13 June.

Gul’chekhra Karimova (2013b), “Ernest Abdyjaparov predstavil shirokoi publike retrokomediiu Taksi i telefon,” Vechernii Bishkek, 12 July.

Mamat Sabyrov (2013), “Ernis [sic] Abdyjaparov: ‘Narod seichas stal smotret’ kino vyborochno’”, gezitter.org, 4 July.


Taxi and Telephone, Kyrgyzstan and Germany, 2013
Black and white, 103 min.
Director: Ernest Abdyjaparov
Screenplay: Ernest Abdyjaparov
Director of Photography: Sanjar Abdyjaparov
Costume Design: Zamira Moldosheva
Producers: Ernest Abdyjaparov, Hans-Erich Viet
Cast: Gulmira Tursunbaeva, Asylbek Ozubekov, Kanat Mamyrkanov, Elina Abai kyzy, Zarema Asanalieva, Ainura Chancharbaeva
Production Company: Studio Ernest Abdyjaparov, Viet-Film Produktion

Ernest Abdyjaparov: Taxi and Telephone (Taksi zhana telefon, 2013)

reviewed by Andrei Rogatchevski © 2015

Updated: 29 Mar 15