Issue 59 (2018)

Temir Birnazarov: Night Accident (Nochnaia avariia/ Tunku kyrsyk, Kyrgyzstan 2017)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2018

The Story of Sudden Love

The world premiere of Temir Birnazarov’s film Night Accident took place on 26 November 2017 in the main competition of the 21st edition of the International Film Festival Black Nights in Tallinn, where the film went on to receive the Grand Prix.

“A feeling comes suddenly and can catch anyone unawares. Many directors have spoken about this in their films. Being in love is a huge shock. First alarm and doubt disrupt our inner quietude and threaten the measured flow of life. But love is necessary in our monotonous life: we need it just like we need air. Love changes us, and we do not understand how that happens. In the film I wanted to say that love has no restriction on age; it does not assess a character and does not divide people into good and bad. Love changes the killer-girl, whose eyes tell the spectator: I can kill anyone. Love also changes the old man-alcoholic, who lives a dog’s life (as his own son once said) in utter loneliness. When a person strongly loves and suddenly is deprived of that love in his life, he begins to cherish emotions and tries to keep them inside himself. Having lost his girl, my old man does not want to return to his previous lonely life and goes towards his dream, taking his feelings with him.”
(Temir Birnazarov about the concept of Night Accident)

nighjt accident_posterTalip Ibraimov’s Prose: The Old Man and the Angel
After viewing the film I instantly went back to re-read the collection of five stories by Talip Ibraimov, The Old Man and the Angel, which received the prestigious Russian Prize (Russkaia Premiia) in 2006 that is awarded to Russian-speaking writers of the CIS countries and the Baltic States (except Russia).

Temir Birnazarov apparently also repeatedly re-read this book, because his film delicately and sensitively presents the essence of the writer’s idea, which has been precisely expressed by Maiia Kucherskaia (2007): “All the stories are like one: about love. Terrible, bloody, often age-driven when people who are not young any more fall in love, but people who have already passed most of their life on this earth.” The director has transformed the formal structure of the explosive writing style. In the relationship between the old man (Akylbek Abdykalykov) and the girl (Dina Jacob) reign restraint and uneasiness. They suppress their feelings, scared of passion and wild emotions. By will of fate, the uneven-aged protagonists meet in the same space; they do not immediately find a human interest in each other. Only some time later the elderly man and the girl are attracted to one another, but they realize this in a fine, delicate manner, without breaking the borders of personal space. The nature of their feelings is cautious. The director speaks about this in the concept. Obviously the literary source for the film are three stories from Talip Ibraimov’s collection: “The Angel,” “The Cuckoo’s Nest,” and “The Old Man.”

The Angel” is narrated from the perspective of the heroine Bermet, a young wild child from “London,” one of dens of iniquity in the city. The girl dreams of being pulled out of this hell—a haven for drunkards, drug addicts and rogues—at any cost. “Cuckoo’s Nest” tells the story of the late love of an elderly man and a deaf, forty-year-old woman. The man’s name is Asan, and in the opinion of his former wife and three children he has not lived the life correctly: he has not saved up; he has not gone to the city; he has not met a worthy elderly woman to join him in life. Like in the story “The Angel,” the heroine is called Bermet. In her childhood she got scared by a dog and since then she cannot hear. She got married only at the age of forty to Asan, who actually turns out to be a respectable citizen with his own code of honor. True, he has a flaw: in moments of emotional stress he drinks impetuously. Bermet knows: she has to wait until the drinking bout is over.

night accidentIn the story “The Cuckoo’s Nest” Birnazarov noted, and then transferred on screen, the image of the supporting characters: their personalities, behavioral motivation, and emotions. These are Asan’s “gal,” whom he spent time with not just at the table but also in bed. Now she is hurt that he married, because she probably thought that he would always be with her. And there is the debauchee couple, for whom Asan always played the gooseberry without being quite superfluous when it came to knocking off or boozing. Once, while drunk, Asan was knocked out, and they had the crazy idea to take control over Bermet. She defended herself and took a decorative whip from the wall, beating her aggressors. In film the girl takes the old man’s unlucky friends with a rifle and scoffs at them, forcing them to squat down. In one of scenes we learn that Asan has a fine sense of music: he loves opera and often sings along during television shows. Birnazarov’s hero quite often retires to play the accordion. He likes to sit on a bench near the lake in the evenings, strumming a sad melody.

The action of Ibraimov’s story unfolds on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, where Asan’s house is located. Sometimes, in moments of intolerable inner torment and a seeming hopelessness of life, he gets himself out of depression by simply retiring to the shore, sitting on the boulders for a long time and thinking about something, staring into the distance.

night accidentFinally, the third story “The Old Man,” informs the film’s plot, although Birnazarov also transformed the story and modified it while keeping the tone that sets the highest point of support and unites the image of the protagonist in “The Old Man” and “Cuckoo’s Nest”, but also in “Women at the Stirrup.” This is his position in life, thanks to which Ibraimov’s characters remain true to themselves through their lives. His younger version is presented in “The Angel” in the teacher Seit Asanovich, whom the heroine—the wild child Bermet—considers a simpleton who works for peanuts, but at the same time she understands that society relies on people like him.

According to Ibraimov’s philosophy, our world remains patriarchal; its eternal hero is the Old Man, the salt of the earth, who lives in a heavenly spot and is essentially its master. He is a free bird and breathes deeply, tasting the fruits of his own garden and cherishing a dream: to make the world more accomplished and fair. The woman is by the nature changeable and unstable, but sometimes she can be an ideal, accomplished like Asan’s mute wife from “The Cuckoo’s Nest,” but on the whole women are unreliable creatures. Birnazarov is in solidarity here again with Ibraimov: he rejects the deaf Bermet from “The Cuckoo’s Nest” and unites two images: of the wild child Bermet from “The Angel” and Rita’s fallen angel from “The Old Man,” to create a third figure, strange and not from this world: the girl who prefers to be silent and not tell anything about herself. Yet it is clear that she is not shy. Birnazarov shows through his heroine that evil forces have conquered all kind intentions of Bermet from Ibraimov’s “The Angel” to start a normal life. Bermet is reincarnated in a Peri, and her angelic essence has simply dissolved and disappeared as a consequence of a life without light at the end of the tunnel. In the ending Night Accident we learn that the heroine actually is an antipode of the Angel Peri.

night accidentBirnazarov agrees with Ibraimov’s world view: man is a fortress in our severe and harsh reality, who cannot be shaken or forced to change his outlook. The hero who was ideologically in his youth remains such in old age. The culmination of this development is the unshaken character at the film’s end when the old man makes come true, at last, his age-old dream: to cross the lake (maybe in his dreams he meant “cross the ocean”). So Birnazarov ennobles the image of the old man, who is firm in his belief. He is a patriarch, the master of paradisiacal spaces for whom this signifies wealth. Meanwhile, his children, relatives, neighbors, and friends understand by the word wealth the material richness of money and property. Ibraimov’s correct and ideologically stable Old Man becomes for Birnazarov an ideal, perfect character, who lives in accordance with worldly wisdom: the sensation of well-being roots in convictions, and at their basis lies the right world view. Everything that surrounds you is your wealth—it is the environment in which you live.

night accidentThe hero of the story “The Old Man” with the surname Asanov, a fan of swimming on his own, who always “swam easily and powerfully, imagining himself to be a mighty fish. Unexpectedly something disrupts the habitual soundtrack… something extraneous, as if something big and heavy has fallen from the sky into the sea.” This was the drowned woman, whom Asanov rescued; later she returned and they became lovers.

Re-reading Ibraimov’s story, the 70-year-old hero of the story “The Old Man” is that same school teacher of Bermet’s brother, the wild child from “The Angel,” Seit Asanovich Asanov, then a young 26-year-old class teacher. He had been enamored with Bermet and tried to save her brother Nurdin from the bad influence of the streets. If the image of Seit Asanov develops in the ascending order in Ibraimov’s two works, then the female image degrades into a downward spiral. The wild child Bermet in “The Angel” desperately sought an opportunity to be get out of “London,” only her dreams did not have that extra support: she did not avoid dirty money. As a result, in “The Old Man,” another version of the character Rita decides to drown herself in the lake, as she cannot fall any lower.

Temir Birnazarov: The old man and the Peri
In Asian mythology the Peri is a servant of good and evil. A Peri can take the form of beautiful girls and turn the head of a person so they completely subordinate to her will.

night accidentThe film started with the working title “The Cuckoo’s Nest,” the same as Ibraimov’s story; but during the production the plot was transformed and the director managed through cinematic means to transfer the literary features of the collection noted been by many Russian critics: his stories are embedded in everyday life and in trifles, but there is always an unexpected turn and the protagonists are not what they seem to be.

At the center of Night Accident stands the constant, eternal, special, lonely character of Ibraimov’s prose: the Old Man and the strange silent girl: injured, he picked up at night on a country road. Nursing the girl, the Old Man gradually falls in love with her. In the role of the Old Man is the National Actor of Kyrgyzstan, Akylbek Abdykalykov; in the role of the girl is Dina Jacob, a model, author and presenter of the video-blog “On Heels” of the Kyrgyz television channel

The hero, who is neither tall nor handsome, earns his living by digging latrines. He possesses inner beauty and is, without a doubt, noble; and he has a great dream. In the beginning of the film we see him in a ditch, which very quickly turns into a toilet. Hierarchically, this man occupies one of the lowliest positions in society. But the mighty of this world like to come to his workplace to sort out their affairs with him, towering above him and humiliating him.

Every time this irritates the old man: he gets nervous, irritated, he shouts and paces back and forth, wanting to kill the offender. Every time something stops him from firing the fatal shot. (The gun in his house is always charged!). This time, too, he furiously rushes on his old motorcycle with sidecar after the jeep of some ex-deputy, who had once taken away his wife and now humiliates him in front of other people. On the way he finds the injured girl. He no longer thinks of the offender, but takes the girl home to provide first aid. Later he admits: “If it hadn’t been for you... I wanted to shoot that man who destroyed my family. So you saved the life of a man.”

The girl is silent all the time, although we can sense that her inner self is not quiet at all; she is always ready to repulse anyone who tries to restrict her freedom. It emerges that the heroine can handle weapons. Besides, in the absence of the old man, she can protect herself from the encroachment of her savior’s drinking companions. The old man is enamored, inspired and ready to lay the whole world to his guest’s feet. In his head there is no sense of the girl’s unreliability. He carries her literally on his hands and fusses over her.

Before viewing this film I did not know Dina Jacob, but her performance amazed me. Externally her heroine seems indifferent, but inside she is torn by various phobias, she is waiting for her punishment; therefore she is focused and concentrated all the time. Dina Jacob plays the heroine with a double bottom.

night accidentDina Jacob is no debutante in cinema. In 2013 she acted in the film The Secret of Inheritance (Sekret nasledstva, dir. Adilet Akmatov), playing the younger daughter of the multimillionaire who solves a strange riddle. Then a brunette, she is blonde now. Throughout the film she is present in the background, but when her role becomes central, she instantly attracts the attention of the spectators. How did she manage that? Her clear and unusual appearance, the confident characteristic voice in which the intonations of the father-oligarch are reflected and combined with a convincing role played among well-known partners and stars of Kyrgyz theatre and cinema. Her performance was impressive, making her small role in The Secret of Inheritance memorable and consequently easy to recollect in detail, though four years passed after a single viewing of the film.

When I asked Birnazarov how he arrived at the interesting idea of this unique actors’ duet—Akylbek Abdykalykov and Dina Jacob—he said: “you remember the heroes of my previous film Passion—there were also an old man and a girl, Artykpai Suyundukov and Kalina Usenova: beautiful, glamorous people in a fatal connection. Here I decided to pick actors who would not be of standard appearance to play out the contrast to Passion.”

birnazarovOn the other hand, it seems at first that the image of the old man in Night Accident is tragic. He is a loser in life, he is the kind of person usually cheated by others, turned into a fool by his former wife, who has taken away the children and eventually left him for that deputy. It would seem that he is a drunkard, who—when sober—digs toilets to earn money to pay for his binge drinking. But he is noble, ready to come to the aid of others. And most important is his great dream: “All my life I dreamed of crossing our lake.”

Thus, Birnazarov says it’s not all gloom and doom in our society. If the relationship of the vicious couple from Passion (Strast’/Kumar, 2013, dir. Birnazarov) resulted in an impasse in the end (the heroine got pregnant from her elderly sponsor who turned out to be her father), then nowadays, in the ending of Night Accident, there is hope. At least one half of the strange couple rises above life. In my opinion, the director’s patriarchal views gave no chance to the heroine: she is taken away by the police as she is a killer and has recently killed every influential criminal authority.

But Birnazarov’s old man, in the magnificent performance of Akylbek Abdykalykov, is a man who is not broken by a set of failures; he maintained his dignity. No filth sticks to him, though he earns a living by digging latrines. The old man overcomes the circumstances of life, because he lives with a dream which, at last, he decides to make come true. The film ends with a swim, and it would be nice to believe that the hero will definitely reach the other side of the lake!

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Works Cited

Kucherskaia, Maiia. 2007. “Melodrama – ne dikost’, a sredstvo perezhivaniia” Vedomosti 28 December.

Night Accident (Tunku kyrsyk / Nochnaia avariia), Kyrgyzstan, 2017
DCD, color, 90 min.
Director: Temirbek (Temir) Birnazarov
Scriptwriters: Nurifa Umiralieva, Temirbek Birnazarov; based on the works of Talip Ibraimov
DoP: Kabyldjan Khamidov
Production Design: Baiysh Ismanov
Sound: Kalybek Sherniyazov
Composer: Asylbek Ozulbekov
Producer: Gulmira Kerimova
Cast: Akylbek Abdykalykov, Dina Jacob
Production: Kyrgyzfilm

Temir Birnazarov: Night Accident (Nochnaia avariia/ Tunku kyrsyk, Kyrgyzstan 2017)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova© 2018

Updated: 2018