Issue 49 (2015)

Nariman Turebaev: Adventure (Prikliuchenie, Kazakhstan 2014)

reviewed by Connor Doak© 2015

prikliuchenieAdventure, the third feature film by Kazakh director Nariman Turebaev, offers an understated yet compelling adaptation of Fedor Dostoevskii’s White Nights (Belye nochi). Turebaev transposes the story to contemporary Kazakhstan, but keeps the love triangle at the heart of the intrigue. Dostoevskii’s young dreamer becomes the naive security guard Marat (Azamat Nigmanov), who falls for Mar’iam (Ainur Niiazova), a more worldly and assertive version of Dostoevskii’s Nasten’ka. She, in turn, sees Marat only as a friend, and continues to pine after a former lover who has promised to return. Tension quietly simmers below the surface for most of the eighty-minute run time of this slow-burning film, which only occasionally erupts into drama.

prikliuchenieDostoevskii’s work poses a particular set of challenges to filmmakers. While his plots are usually germane to adaptation, the narratological complexity of his work proves more difficult to render in film. There is no obvious cinematic solution for the director who wishes to find an equivalent for the prose style of Dostoevksii’s garrulous, unreliable narrators like the Underground Man and the dreamer of White Nights. However, Turebaev’s genius as auteur lies in his innovative use of lighting, locations, sound and mise-en-scène to achieve the same psychological depth as Dostoevskii.

prikliuchenieIndeed, some of his cinematographic techniques rework elements of Dostoevskii’s text in intriguing ways. For example, Turebaev’s use of lighting builds on the delirium and confusion associated with the white nights of Dostoevskii’s story. Transposing the tale to the lower latitudes of Almaty, Turebaev obviously cannot make use of the midnight sun, but he nonetheless manages to capture the same mood by playing with both artificial and natural light. For example, an early sequence sees the camera zoom into the naked light bulb that remains illuminated throughout the night while Marat covers the graveyard shift in an empty office building. The next morning, we see a dazed Marat emerge from the front door, adjusting his eyes to the harsh morning sunlight of the city.

Turebaev’s Almaty is an anonymous, post-Soviet city that has little Central Asian flavor. Filming locations range from soulless supermarkets to decaying khrushchevki and low-end night clubs. This setting lacks the distinctive topoi of the nineteenth-century Petersburg text—we recall how Dostoevskii’s dreamer used to converse with the houses on his perambulations throughout the city—but it shares Petersburg’s psycho-geography of loneliness and alienation.

prikliuchenieThe theme of the little man, who remains powerless in the big city, will be familiar to viewers who remember the hapless male protagonists of Turebaev’s previous films Little People (Malen’kie liudi, 2003) and Sunny Days (Solnechnye dni, 2011).However, what is new in Adventure is Turebaev’s exploration of how to render cinematically the little man’s inability to articulate his feelings. Dialogue is accordingly sparse in the film, and Turebaev thoughtfully deploys scenes of protracted silence that encourage the viewer to guess Marat’s unstated innermost thoughts.

Such an approach requires an actor who will exercise restraint. Fortunately, Nigmanov gives an admirably subtle performance as the unfortunate Marat. “It’s hard to play a very quiet character, to hold back my emotions and to act with my eyes alone,” he comments in an interview (Kozlov n.d.), but he manages to do just that. The audience finds Marat’s ingenuousness simultaneously attractive and a little ridiculous, as is the director’s intention.

prikliuchenieHowever, here Marat differs from his Dostoevskian prototype. Readers of White Nights will remember that the dreamer, though a self-proclaimed outcast, is rather too forthcoming about his own shyness, and rather too eloquent about his own lack of social skills. When beginning the tragic story of his life to Nasten’ka, Dostoevskii’s dreamer strikes “a learned, serious pose and begins to talk if as following a script” (Dostoevskii 1972, 112). The hero who seeks to aggrandize his own failings will become a recurring feature of Dostoevskii’s fiction, from the Underground Man to Marmeladov and old Karamazov. By contrast, Turebaev’s Marat lacks any hint of self-dramatization. Marat is fascinating in his own right, but most will find him more straightforwardly sympathetic than Dostoevskii’s would-be sentimentalist hero.

prikliuchenieYet a set of recurring symbols hints at Marat’s complexity. Some of these are easy to interpret: a blindfold suggests a refusal to engage with the realities of the world, while his punching-bag indicates unresolved frustration and anxiety about masculinity. Others prove more opaque: Marat buys eggs by the cartload and they apparently constitute his staple food. Does this cheap form of protein-heavy nourishment simply highlight the monotony of his bachelor’s existence, or does it again hint at a desire to enhance his virility? Whatever the explanation, such recurring sequences make Adventure more stylized than Turebaev’s earlier work, and for this reason the new film will appeal especially to the art-house crowd. However, the prevailing aesthetic in the film remains one of simplicity, as seen in the uncluttered set designs and scant use of dialogue. This style shows the continued imprint of the Kazakh New Wave—particularly the work of Darejan Omirbaev—on Turebaev’s direction.

prikliucheniePerhaps the most significant departure in Adventure comes with the boldness of the female lead. Turebaev’s earlier films did not provide a heroine as complex as the fiery, brazen Mar’iam. At first sight, she does not resemble in the least her counterpart in White Nights, the weepy, orphaned Nasten’ka who spends her days at home caring for her blind grandmother. Yet it soon becomes apparent that Mar’iam’s bravado masks an unmistakably Dostoevskian vulnerability; she has perhaps more in common with Nastas’ia Filippovna from The Idiot than Nasten’ka.

prikliuchenieNiiazova, who plays the role, sees Mar’iam as a “very lonely person, even rather wretched, and she feels she needs to behave in a certain way to defend herself from the world around her” (Pliaskina 2013). We see such behavior in one of the film’s most successful—and most uncomfortable—scenes: the marriage proposal. Mar’iam responds to Marat by bursting into a fit of giggles that appear simultaneously innocently girlish and devilishly sadistic. Although the “adventure” of the title refers primarily to Mar’iam’s initiating Marat’s entry into a world of desire and uncertainty, Mar’iam also has an adventure of her own, as she begins to appreciate and understand Marat’s love for her.

prikliuchenieCommenting on the film, one skeptical blogger quips: “There exists a long tradition among Kazakh directors with intellectual pretensions: if you can’t think of a subject for a film […], take a little Dostoevskii and carefully rewrite the story against the backdrop of gritty Kazakh reality” (Kadyrbaev 2014). This assessment is unfair: Adventure is much more than reheated Dostoevskii with a dash of Central Asian grit. The film does update Dostoevskii’s text for our era of global capitalism, but its impressive cinematography makes it work as a standalone film, perhaps even more so than the adaptations of White Nights by the greats, Luchino Visconti and Robert Bresson.

Connor Doak
University of Bristol

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Works Cited

Dostoevskii, F.M. 1972. Belye nochi,in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 2. Leningrad: Nauka, 102-141.

Kadyrbaev, Karim. 2014. “Kazakhstanskoe kino v 2014 godu (chast’ 4),” 22 July.

Kozlov, Konstantin. n.d. “Svoi sredi svoikh,” Unique Kazakhstan.

Pliaskina, Nadezhda. 2013. “‘Prikluicheniia’ Narimana Turebaeva,” Sezon 31 July.

Adventure, Kazakhstan and France, 2014.
Color, 78 minutes, DCP
Director and scriptwriter: Nariman Turebaev
Music: Irena Scalerika
Artistic director: Munir Akhmetzhanov
Cast: Ainur Niiazova, Azamat Nigmanov
Producers: Guillaume de Seille and Anna Kachko
Executive producer: Erzhan Akhmetov
Kazakhfilm Studios, Arizona Productions

Nariman Turebaev: Adventure (Prikliuchenie, Kazakhstan 2014)

reviewed by Connor Doak© 2015