Issue 50 (2015)
Elnura Osmonalieva: Seide (Kyrgyzstan, 2015)
reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2015
The Earth of the Fathers will not be deserted
The young Seide lives in a remote mountain village. She enjoys life, rides her favorite horse and plays horse games with the local boys. When a matchmaker unexpectedly shows up in her parents’ house and they agree to marry Seide, the father decides to kill her horse for the wedding. Pained and helpless, Seide tries to understand her family, but she cannot allow them to kill her horse. Unfortunately, her beloved horse and Seide have absolutely nowhere to escape to.
Seide is flawless; it is an ideal film. Everything is harmonious and perfect. It is particularly noteworthy that the director, Elnura Osmonalieva, decided to shoot the film in the winter. Even experienced Kyrgyz directors often repeat that it is very hard to film in the winter... And the difficulty lies not only in the fact that it is cold and uncomfortable. There is a certain complexity in the work of the cameraman and the production designer in rendering light and color, because the entire nature set is covered in white snow.
Both the cameraman and the production designer have found, together with the director, an interesting visual solution for the border of white, light grey and light blue, rendering the entire charm of a winter landscape that allows us, the spectators, to feel the coldness of the weather, but not as a biting cold: it is a pleasant frost.
The image of the heroine Seide is quite untraditional for Kyrgyz cinema, although the type of the “kyz-bala” takes a worthy place in the hierarchy of female archetypes in the world of the Kyrgyz people. Many individual stories of women are known, when fathers in vain waited for the birth of a son and instead raised the daughter like a boy: from a small age such girls were able to ride horses and they befriended largely boys; they could stand up for themselves. In Seide the heroine competes on a par with Djigits in difficult competitions of “Tyinyn enmei”  and often she is the winner. But sooner or later the female impulse takes over and girls gradually start to lean towards their youthful entertainments.
The figure of Seide’s grandmother is quite important in the film. She is the head of the family, and she makes the key decision in Seide’s destiny: the granddaughter will marry the guy from a worthy family because there is no better prospect. Seide does not state her opinion at all. It is not needed. She understands that things will be as the grandmother says. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
At first sight, Seide loses her freedom by marrying; henceforth she will obey her husband and carry out laborious domestic chores. But that’s at a first, superficial sight. Her parents, her father, the mother who died three years ago, and the grandmother have raised Seide as a hardworking and healthy girl. She is ready for domestic life. She will be the worthy wife of a worthy man. She will give birth to remarkable children. She will leave an appreciable trace on earth. In the image of the grandmother we see Seide in 50 or 60 years.
Osmonalieva & Okeev
When the Kyrgyz media learned that the world premier of Elnura Osmonalieva’s Seide would take place in the shorts competition of “Orrizonti” at the 72th IFF in Venice, they were elated. The well-known public figure of the Kyrgyz Republic, Mira Djangaracheva, optimistically voiced that the fact alone that the film is in competition in Venice gives hope that Kyrgyz cinema will bring forth new Okeevs.
Some words about the well-known Kyrgyz Soviet director Tolomush Okeev. In 1958, having graduated from the demanding Electro-technical Faculty of the Leningrad Institute of Film-engineers (LIKI), he became the first professional Kyrgyz sound technician. For some years he worked on the dubbing of documentary and feature films; then, from the early 1960s, he worked on the set with visiting directors Larisa Shepit’ko, Aleksei Sakharov, Mar’ianna Roshal’, and Andrei Konchalovskii. Some of the films by these visiting directors received international recognition but, as Okeev remarked, they expressed an understanding of Kyrgyzstan from the point of view of Russian culture, while the Kyrgyz world view remained an exotic element: “To penetrate the soul of the people, to understand their pain, pleasure, and expectation, one has to be a representative of this people,” said Okeev in a personal meeting in October 2000. In 1964 a pensive and ambitious Tolomush Okeev enrolled on the Higher Courses for Directors and Scriptwriters in Moscow. In 1965 he created his first masterpiece, the short documentary These are Horses (Eto—loshadi).
Indeed, since the beginning of the 2010s Kyrgyz cinema has been dominated by a new generation that has grown up after the disintegration of the USSR. They address bold issues, first of all: to receive a decent film education at prestigious educational institutions around the world: in the USA, Great Britain, South Korea.
Thus, Elnura Osmonalieva, a graduate of the Faculty of the International and Comparative Politics at the American University in Central Asia (AUTsA, Bishkek), started to work in cinema as an actress, director, manager. Her first films were recognized in Kyrgyzstan and at international film festivals. She decided to pursue a career in cinema and enrolled at the film faculty of Tisch School of the Arts at the University of New York City.
Djangaracheva has accurately noticed a certain similarity in the situations of the two artists when they created their key films. Before The Sky of Our Childhood (Nebo nashego detstvo, 1966) Okeev decided to make a short film, These are Horses for a visual check of his project. Osmonalieva’s film Seide, it seems to me, is also part of a larger project, of a basic theme in her creative path.
Okeev’s film These are Horses showed (and superbly so!) the life of a horse: from the moment of birth to slaughter. As Leonid Gurevich wrote: “the foal was born in blood and pain on a mountain pasture; it stood on its thin legs next to the mother, breathed with a passion for freedom... Then a mad pursuit, the sound of a lasso, a strange loop around the neck, falling, getting up, and again falling, the weight of the saddle, the pain from the bit, rage, insult, captivity... Then the rumble of the hippodrome, the ring of a bell, the intense race to reach the goal, and shouts of victory. Then the most terrible part: old age, slaughter, the impact of the slaughterer’s knife, tears in the eyes of the horses around...” (Sovetskii ekran 7, 1979).
In Seide the horse is the heroine’s best friend, and she cannot let the worst thing happen. Seide does not think of herself, but she tries to rescue her best friend.
Today there is an entirely different situation in our community, and we differ from the Soviet period of fifty years ago in that we can set our own priorities. Okeev’s foals and young horses frolic for the time being, until their training starts. Everything is under the control and carried out to the end: the abattoir... For Osmonalieva the girl decides to release the horse into freedom so that it won’t be slaughtered. But the horse does not want to leave its best friend. The new times have given us also a new sense of love and friendship that we did not know half a century ago....
Director’s Comment: “I conceived a beautiful and sad film about a person growing up and losing the illusion of freedom. When we turn adults, we have to make more and more complex decisions. As a compromise, we often have to turn down what we dreamt of. However, despite that, even in the hardest and most hopeless times, we should do the best with what is in our power.”
Comment by Denis Vaslin, Producer, Holland/France: “Very beautiful camerawork and editing, but most impressive is the plot. The director managed, in a positive sense, to tell a story about fate and escapism, fidelity and treachery, refusal and acceptance, without forgetting about sacrifice.”
Comment by Anna Vilgelmi, Producer, Germany: “Strong camerawork, not the Central-Asian postcard style. The film is sincere, alive, and authentic. It’s very sad, but it seems that this internal hopelessness gives rise to hope for change, a desire to oppose, so that a very interesting effect is created.”
Translated by Birgit Beumers
1] This is a competition where young Djigits show their skill of riding and dexterity. In the old days, coins were used in the game, which had to be picked up from the ground in full stride; now the coins have been replaced with tags made from scraps of colored rags. These tags are placed at a certain distance from each other on a course; the rider tries to pick them up whilst galloping along the course, bending down as far as possible to seize them. As soon as the rider seizes a tag, he tosses it up so the spectators can keep count. After three tours, the rider with the best result is declared the winner.
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Seide, Kyrgyzstan, 2015,
Color, 14 minutes, DCP
Scriptwriter and Director: Elnura Osmonalieva
Producers: Elnura Osmonalieva and Charlotte Rabate
Cinematography: Chananun Chotrungroj
Production Design: Myrsini Aristidou
Sound: Andrei Nikitin
Editor: Viktor Opekin
Stunt coordinator: Kanat Abdrakhmanov
Cast: Kaliman Kalybek kyzy (Seide); Kanat Abdrahmanov (Father); Razha Alieva (Grandmother); Syiapat Abdrahmanova (Sister); Stanbek Toichubaev (Hunter); Horse Torka
Elnura Osmonalieva: Seide (Kyrgyzstan, 2015)
reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2015