Issue 54 (2016)

Bakyt Mukul, Dastan Japar Uulu: A Father’s Will (Zaveshchanie ottsa, Kyrgyzstan 2016)

reviewed by Gulnara Abikeyeva© 2016

We overcome hard times only by saying goodbye to them

The world premiere of the film A Father’s Will by directors-debutants Dastan Japar Uulu and Bakyt Mukul took place at the Montreal IFF. Japar Uulu is a young cameraman, Mukul a well-known comedian. With this film, the duo from Kyrgyzstan has produced an astonishing result, powerful and important, with a significance that extends not only to the artistic, but also to the socio-historical level.

fathers willThe story is as follows: young Azat, who has been living in America for twelve years, returns to his native aul in Kyrgyzstan to fulfill the will of his father, who died a year earlier. From a telephone conversation we understand that he left America rather unexpectedly for his family and especially his mother, and that he sold the car before leaving. He needs that money to pay back the father’s debts, which the latter incurred during the harsh 1990s. Their family house has been abandoned, nobody has lived there; however, words are not enough to render the beautiful details of the film: the images reveal a detail that makes this abandonment fatal. Once, a window was smashed in one of the rooms, and an apple tree branch grew into it, which produced fruit; however, in the absence of care and sunlight, the apples and the tree withered and dried up. To put the house in order, Azat cuts off this branch, puts new glass panes into the windows, and overhauls the entire house. There is an impression that he has come back for good. In the aul they treat him, Murat’s son, rather coldly; in fact, the father had made debts and left goodness knows where, while the locals had to sort out all the trouble. When Azat finds his uncle, who now lives in the mountains, to repay him, the latter does not even turn around to talk to him face to face. In this atmosphere of aversion and non-forgiveness, Azat sometimes considers going to the local cemetery and secretly bury the father’s remains, which he has brought back in an urn. But for the moment he does not tell anyone that his father has died and steadfastly listens to charges leveled at him. Indeed, who knows what the father’s will was: to be buried in the native soil, to pay off the debts, or to ask for forgiveness.

fathers willIn the film there is a remarkable episode, which lasts a whole seven minutes: Azat goes on a britchka with his schoolmate’s father; together they have sawn boards and now they are on their way back home. They pass through the entire settlement and speak about the difficulties of the 90s, and that many people left the aul then, abandoning their houses. The camera pans out and shows the panorama of these abandoned houses. Moreover, we seem to travel together with the heroes on this britzka, backwards, feeling uncomfortable. We want to turn round with the whole body to see the horse and the road ahead instead of being pulled backwards. This discomfort at a physical level supports the story of the aul’s bad fortune that we see on the screen.

fathers willOn the whole, the film is strong in its film language, which combines visual observation with physical sensations. The viewer, along with the hero, spends the night in the cold and uncomfortable house, and feels the same abandonment and estrangement. The viewer senses directly how hard this is for the young man, who has left the village as a child, and returns as an outsider. But he cleans the house, and—helped by his schoolmate and wife—fixes it. He gradually repays everybody. And, slowly but steadily, people get used to his presence and understand that he is not a bad guy. At last, after a long search, the father’s native brother Choro is found; he has spent a term in prison for Murat’s debts. Azat only tells Choro about the father’s death, and only then does the funeral go ahead. Even the mullah is a little confused, since he has never buried ashes instead of a body. But they do everything by the book: the ashes are wrapped in a shroud, and carried into the court yard on a funeral cradle. There the inhabitants of the aul are waiting already: relatives and close people have come along. We have seen their faces earlier, when Azat repaid the father’s debts. The mullah calls Azat into the centre to accept the responsibility for the father’s debts, and the mullah absolves the deceased of his sins. Only then does he read the Janazah, the funeral prayer, one of last honors rendered to the deceased.

fathers willBut that is not all: the culmination follows on the cemetery, when Murat’s remains have already been buried, and the mullah tells Azat to ask the people three times what kind of person the father was. This is also a formal ritual, but in the context of film, we understand that in answer Azat may hear various things. And so Azat asks: “What kind of person was my father?” And the people answer: “A good man.” The second time, through tears, Azat asks: “What kind of person was my father?” And the people again answer rapidly: “Good, good.” For the third time Azat asks this question. And together with him, we understand that the people have forgiven the father, and that the main request consisted not in being buried in the native land, but to be adequately buried, to be forgiven by relatives and neighbors, and not be buried like a dog in a foreign land. We also understand that Murat has been forgiven, because he raised a worthy son who did everything as should be, although Azat has lived most of his life in a foreign land, outside his culture. But the story of the burial place for the father is read much broader in the film: it is the story of a pardon for those who committed sins in those 1990s, when the new state had only just been established. This is a pardon and farewell to the past. It is a sign that it is time to forget old insults and injuries. Here again, the funeral has not so much of a ritual function, as that of a human pardon. Because we overcome the past only saying goodbye to it.

Gulnara Abikeyeva

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A Father’s Will, Kyrgyzstan, 2016
DCP, 112 minutes
Production: Kyrgyzfilm, Elfilm
Language: Kyrgyz
Script: Bakyt Mukul, Dastan Japar Uulu
Director: Bakyt Mukul, Dastan Japar Uulu
DoP: Akjol Bekbolotov
Producers: Gulmira Kerimova, Ermek Mukul, Talant Tolobekov
Cast: Imam Mukul, Marat Alyshpaev, Taalai Kasymaliev, Bakyt Mukul, Amantur Abdysalam Uulu, Tynara Abdrazayeva, Diana Sabyrbekova
Awards: Golden Zenith at Montreal World Film Festival, 2016. Kazakhstan National Award “Tulpar” for Best Film from Central Asia, 2016.

Bakyt Mukul, Dastan Japar Uulu: A Father’s Will (Zaveshchanie ottsa, Kyrgyzstan 2016)

reviewed by Gulnara Abikeyeva© 2016