Issue 52 (2016)

Nurzhamal Damir: Frunze (Kyrgyzstan, short, 2016)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2016

damir and saruluNurzhamal Damir is a graduate of the workshop run by Marat Sarulu at the Kyrgyz Higher School of Film and TV. Her diploma film Frunze made it right into the section of the Cannes Short Film Corner and will be presented in competition of the International Forum of Young Cinema “Umut” [Hope] at the end of October 2016. Nurzhamal Damir (Karamoldaeva) is known to Kyrgyz audiences for the short film Bully Woman (Bychara/Oguz Ayal, 2013).

Frunze offers an assessment, from the perspective of a new generation of Kyrgyz citizens, of the beautiful era of the 1960s–1980s, when the country’s capital carried its name of Balkan-Roman origin. In translation from Romanian Frunze means “green leaf.” The townspeople, when representing the country in other cities of the immense Soviet land, usually said: “We are from the famous city of Frunze, where the Frunsese live!” [fruntsezy, in a pun on frantsuzy, meaning Frenchmen; BB]. The theme of the film Frunze is the result of a permanent nostalgia for the era of the fathers’ youth. Here is what the director says about the idea for the project: “When confronted with the a depressing or hopeless present, people are inclined to turn back to the brighter moments in their life or in the life of society, of the city and so on, even if this is frequently an illusory image of ‘bright moments in history’. Therefore Frunze for me is an escape from the realities of today, but it is an escape that goes nowhere.”

frunzeFor modern citizens of Bishkek the 1960s–1980s were a true Belle Epoque, which was brought about by a generation of compatriots who received an excellent education in the best high schools of the USSR, who were characterised by intelligence, and who could challenge their opponents with a gentle but firm voice.

From the very beginning of the black-and-white film Frunze the viewer senses an immersion into the atmosphere of the films from the French New Wave, above all Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (A Bout de Souffle, 1960) and Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), as well as the early films of Kira Muratova (Short Encounters/Korotkie vstrechi, 1967; Long Farewells/Dolgie provody, 1971) and Marlen Khutsiev (Ilyich Gates/Zastava Il’icha, 1964; July Rain/Iul’skii dozhd’, 1966). But when the mobile phone of the mother of protagonist Sultan rings, it is clear that the film’s action occurs today. And the image of the young-looking, stylish, fashionable mother of Sultan is obviously not from yesterday, but from today.

frunzeBut the most important element that links generations of fathers and children in this film is the favourite Kyrgyz song “Sagynuu” (“I miss you”), with music by Rysbay Abdykadyrov and lyrics by Karmyshak Tashbaev, from the repertoire of the star of Kyrgyz variety performance (estrada) of the 1970s, Zeinep Shakeeva. It is a song from my own childhood, which I constantly listened to on the radio, though far more widespread at the time was another of Shakeeva’s songs, “18 zhash” (“18 Years”). But for some reason “Sagynuu” has remained in the top charts for four decades and is often re-recorded by younger performers. Every time, listening to each new arrangement of the song, people remember the original performance by Shakeeva: free, open, sincere, and without pressure.

As the film’s plot unfolds, the musicians of a band search for a new vocalist, and they find one: Saltanat is brought in by the ensemble’s drummer, who emphasizes that she is “his” girl. The rehearsal begins. Saltanat misses the rhythm several times and asks her friend to fetch her some water. She herself approaches the guitarist Sultan, and without any tension but great ease begins to sing to his guitar accompaniment. From this moment Saltanat keeps to the rhythm, and the rehearsal continues under the normal conditions. Saltanat leaves with Sultan, and the guy who is left behind quietly endures the humiliation, without making any claims on the girl. His upbringing does not allow him to sort out their relationship in an aggressive manner.

frunzeThe musicians of the Bishkek group The Rolls were filmed in the parts of the band’s musicians, and Saltanat was played by the young and well-known singer Ayana Kasymova. The new arrangement of the song “Sagynuu” is by Bakyt Djunusaliev. The popular song of the beautiful 1970s has received a new breath during the shooting of the film Frunze.

Frunze develops several plot lines, one of which unravels the image of Sultan, who to a certain point follows a known path in his life and has his own system of coordinates. He knows precisely who or what should guide him in this life. Unexpectedly things happen in his life which completely disorient him: he no longer understands his life. His long final runaway from today’s unknown reality speaks concisely about the fact that he wishes to return the past, where he had a comfortable life because everything was set out clearly for him. It is no accident that he runs with his back to the spectators, “back to Frunze;” before him, and facing the viewer, stands the signpost “Frunze.”

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Frunze, Kyrgyzstan, 2016
Black and White, 18 minutes
Screenwriter, Director and Producer: Nurzhamal Damir
Director of Photography: Aleksandr Baryshnikov
Production Design: Ruslan Ismanov
Sound: Murat Azhiev
Editing: Gani Kudaibergen
Cast: Salim Rafibekov (Sultan), Nariste Alieva (Mother), Ayana Kasymova (Saltanat), Aziz Osmonaliev (Father), Ersultan Alykulov (Arsen), Ulan Omorov (Ulan)
Production: Nurzhamal Damir Production, with support from the Okeyev National Film Studio Kyrgyzfilm

Nurzhamal Damir: Frunze (Kyrgyzstan, short, 2016)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2016

Updated: 28 Mar 16