Issue 49 (2015)

Mirlan Abdykalykov: Heavenly Nomadic (Sutak, Kyrgyzstan, 2015)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2015

An Ideal World Order

Mirlan Abdykalykov’s full-length directorial debut Heavenly Nomadic (Sutak) presents an ideal world-order through the life in a remote Kyrgyz location, where people are able to keep a tight rein on themselves; reasonable acts rather than excessive emotions, impulsive acts, rage or aggression prevail in their behaviour.

sutakThe theme of a single family living in a remote isolated area is not new in Kyrgyz cinema. In this respect we can link Heavenly Nomadic to Tolomush Okeev’s The Sky of Our Childhood (Nebo nashego detstva, 1966) and Bolat Shamshiev’s The White Steamship (Belyi parokhod, 1975). But I repeat, in Abdykalykov’s film nobody dares argue, get angry, give in to passion or betray. Even if heroes are dissatisfied with something, they just grumble a little to state their dissatisfaction with that or another extraordinary moment, while an understanding person listens to the rebellious speaker without adding a word. The grumbling person stops and gets on with their never-ending everyday affairs.

In the behavioural motivation of the protagonists of Heavenly Nomadic lies a strong internal message that emanates from the director’s own character, his outlook and attitude: Mirlan Abdykalykov is very quiet, he speaks little, he is stable and moves slowly to achieve his aims.

Abdykalykov is no newcomer to cinema; he has played the lead roles in three films by his father Aktan Abdykalykov (now known as Arym Kubat): Selkinchek, 1993; Beshkempir—The Adopted Son, 1998; and Maimyl—The Chimp, 2001, which make up a biographical triptych where the central character was shown in his development. With interest we watched the boy, overcoming his hatred for a strange cockleshell in Selkinchek, transforms his malicious energy into creativity. The teenager Beshkempir, having found out that he had been adopted, was tormented and suffered until he understood that he should accept the fact of his adoption and preserve his self in this complex world. The laconic young Maimyl inspires trust and is noble, though again very lonely. Maimyl is an idealist; he firmly stands on the ground, and believes that man—contrary to circumstances—can and should keep his identity without betraying his ideals.
sutakAt the centre of Mirlan Abdykalykov’s debut film stands the family of the herdsman Akylbek, which prefers to climb into celestial valleys and over the course of the year wanders within the boundaries of a particular location. All adult members of the family work without rest: the care for the herd requires constant attention—frequent milking of the mares, playing with the foals, tending to the horses on the pasture, riding and racing them. Akylbek’s wife Karachach has a personal point of view on everything, which is not conterminous with the opinion of the other family members. Therefore she often tells her husband that ostensibly the daughter-in-law Shaiyr is not as kind to her as required by family etiquette. Akylbek silently listens, but does not react in any way. Once Karachach has spoken, she goes after her business. No tiresome admonitions, disputes, conflicts.

On the other hand, Shaiyr conducts herself impeccably and gracefully; the mother-in-law cannot really complain about her aloud, she can only cast a slanting look after her; and she is only too jealous when she sees the daughter-in-law easily mount a horse and ride off to the jailoo. Shaiyr is the ideal image of a Kyrgyz woman: she is beautiful, she is a good mother, an excellent mistress of the house and a hard worker. Shaiyr treats the father-in-law respectfully; she remains loyal to her dead husband; she adequately, without causing offense, rejects the proposal of the visiting meteorologist Ermek to have a family. 

sutakSpecial attention is paid to the relationship between adults and children. If Ulan, the elder grandson of Akylbek and Karachach, is already a student at a collage in the city, the younger granddaughter Umsunai is still at a pre-school age. All the adults surround the girl with care and attention. Legends and fairy tales play a great role in the education of the granddaughter; the grandmother and grandfather often tell her stories. Surprisingly, these mythical stories very much correspond to the girl’s present experiences, and those of other family members, too. For example, Karachach transforms the legend about the bird sutak (a kind of owl), that is supposed to sting the daughter-in-law about her friendship with Ermek. Karachach cannot bear such, in her opinion, obscene behaviour by Shaiyr.

Here is the legend: During age-old times the old shaman woman Kara-Bakshi lived on the place where the family now have their home together with the son and daughter-in-law. Once the old woman saw her own daughter-in-law with a stranger. She got very angry and cursed her “to be forever a bird!”. Since that time the daughter-in-law flies the sky, crying out: “Sutak! Sutak! I’m as pure as white milk!” Therefore everyone bows before the bird and forgives her, so she may calm down. But she won’t turn into a human being. In translation from Kyrgyz sutak means white milk.

mirlanWhen Karachach, triumphantly looking at her daughter-in-law, finishes the tale, Shaiyr runs out of the yurt under the pretext of looking after the horses. She easily jumps on the herd’s leader, her favourite horse Ak-Sary, and goes off to the peacefully grazing mares.  

On the other hand, Akylbek tells the story of the courageous hunter Koruke who rescued a herd of mountain goats, among them the sacred Kaiberen, from a group of ruthless and insatiable hunters. When the furious hunters decide to push Koruke off a precipice, Kaiberen does not allow him to die, but turns him into an eagle. Umsunai’s rich imagination allows her to make a connection between the ancient legend and her own life—the loss of her father. Henceforth the girl considers that the eagle that often appears in the sky as if to protect her is an embodiment of her father who was carried away by the rough river when he rescued the foals from the water.

In the end there are only women in the heavenly settlement: Akylbek dies, Ermek and Ulan have left for the city. But the inner force and spiritual wholeness of the three heroines, representatives of several generations, give us the basis to believe that they honourably continue their mission on our earth, for they have pure thoughts personifying an ideal world-order to which we should all aspire.

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Heavenly Nomadic, Kyrgyzstan, 2015
2015, 78 minutes, DCP
Director: Mirlan Abdykalykov
Scriptwriters: Aktan Arym Kubat and Ernest Abdyjaparov
Director of Photography: Talant Akynbekov
Production Designer: Adis Seytaliev
Editing: Murat Ajiev and Eldiyar Madakim
Music: Murzali Jeenbaev
Producer: Sadyk Sher-Niyaz
Co-producer: Altynai Koichumanova
Cast: Jibek Baktybekova (Umsunai), Talaikan Abazova (Shaiyr), Tabyldy Aktanov (Akylbek), Anara Nazarkulova (Karachach), Jenishbek Kangeldiev (Ermek), Myrza Subanbekov (Ulan)

Mirlan Abdykalykov: Heavenly Nomadic (Sutak, Kyrgyzstan, 2015)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2015

Updated: 02 Jul 15