Issue 71 (2021)

Dastan Japar Uulu and Bakyt Mukul: The Road to Eden (Akyrky koch, Kyrgyzstan, 2020)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2021

The final journey of the patriarch

edenThe world premiere of the Kyrgyz film The Road to Eden took place at the 24th IFF Black Nights in Tallinn at the end of November 2020. Due to the pandemic, the director’s duet could not take part in the festival work. The film was presented by the associate producer, Samara Sagynbaeva. Before the screening the organizers showed a short video with one of the directors, Dastan Zhapar Uulu, saying the following:

Q. Why did you want to tell this story and how do you describe the road that leads to Eden?
A. Thanks for the question. We, Dastan Japar Uulu and Bakyt Mukul, are saying that we have always been worried about the problem of social inequality in relation to creative people, art workers and the deplorable state of our culture. In our country, cultural workers have the smallest salaries. But despite this, they are all fanatic about of their work and many actors, directors, writers, artists are working only for the idea. When some famous creative person falls ill, we collect money among the colleagues, among simple people for his treatment, because he has no opportunity to pay.
That’s why we decided to make a film about one of these drama stories.
We think that to describe the road leading to Eden, it needs a lifetime. And Dastan says: In my opinion, each person has his own way, the most important thing is to find the right path in your life.
This road is hard, with difficulties, but you need to make an effort so that the road is not exhausting, but interesting.
In our film, the main character made his path interesting, but his fate was so exhausted that he lost the color of his life.

Road to Eden raises questions about man in society, in a state that has no ideology. It is the second film of the duet of filmmakers, Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar Uulu, who in 2016 debuted with A Father’s Will (Zaveshchanie ottsa).

edenAfter having sold his apartment, the well-known writer Kubat Aliev takes up residence at a care home. First, he had planned to give the money from the sale to the terminally ill writer, his pupil Sapar, so the latter could undergo expensive surgery in Germany. But he is obliged to give the money to his nephew Tilek, who owes one of his business partners a large sum of money. Tilek promises to return the money within a week. The writer remains alone with his thoughts. Probably he reflects on the present situation, deprived of spirituality, and that this is also his fault. Apparently, his books, his thoughts, his conscience have not grown on the people and have not left a trace of kindness, morals, or interest in culture and art.

At the care home the doctors and guests of the writer learn with surprise of his presence. A journalist from television arrives for an interview, trying to understand the situation. Perhaps she also received a task: to present this as a sensation. But the woman keeps her distance, she tries not to hurt the soul of the elder man, who nevertheless feels bad after the conversation with her. The journalist is not a young woman, she is around 35 years of age. She knows and appreciates the writer’s work, and for her this situation comes as a shock. She worries and feels sick. It is hardly a coincidence that the directors invited Gulsina Chotonova for this role, known best as Karagyz from the film of the same title by Gennadi Bazarov (2003). Karagyz is an ailing girl with an icon-like, but mournful face and stood as a symbol of Kyrgyzstan during the first, very difficult years of independence. The actor playing the writer Aliev is Marat Alyshpaev, who in Bazarov’s earlier film played the role of Karagyz’s father. Chotonova rarely acts in film and therefore her appearance in Road to Eden comes as a new embodiment of Karagyz, a successful and self-assured woman. There is a hope of ray that in Aliev’s life something will change for the better.

But our hope for an improvement of Aliev’s condition is in vain. Even if Tilek asks his uncle to accept the invitation to live in his house, we understand that Aliev won’t accept it. At the beginning of the film Aliev had already spent a day in Tilek’s smart apartment, waiting for his nephew; that time the visit turned for the writer into a terrible disappointment with the behavior of Tilek’s wife, for whom the husband’s uncle is extremely unpleasant, so she speaks to Tilek about her rejection of his elder relative.

edenAliev has no children and thus no direct descendants. He has a nephew in the city, who has two sons, and a nephew in his home village. But the young relatives are distant from him on a spiritual level. They have their own problems. Aliev is a burden to them. On the other hand, as soon as there is trouble, they ask him for help, and Aliev doesn’t refuse. But Aliev is not lonely: he has a pupil, the young colleague Sapar, who has written his first book, but is now fatally ill. Aliev’s wisdom lies in the fact that he never makes a drama of the shortage or lack of material values; he knows that he won’t be left on the street, and his main task is to help people with difficult living conditions.

But if Sapar is immobilized and fatally ill, he still manages to write his book; on the other hand, Tilek is caught in a loop: he is constantly drawn into traps set up by unreliable business partners. The values of the uncle are for him no example for imitation. The uncle perfectly understands this, but he lucidly realizes his duties in relation to his relatives, that they should be helped. Such are the traditions.

On the way to the native village, during a short stop, Aliev believes to see the animated heroes from his novel “The Last Nomads” and we remember that in his apartment there was a picture on the wall with the same title, showing people in national costume on horses who promptly skip forward. Dastan Japar Uulu says: “During the shooting, the most difficult thing were the transfers of the nomads with many people and animals in a single dynamic episode. We did such a complex shoot for the first time.”

edenThe painting of the last nomads is also significant: At first I thought that some painter made it, based on Tolomush Okeev’s film Sky of our Childhood (Nebo nashego detstvo, 1966); then during the film I realized that it is an original and very dear to the hero. It transpired that it is the main illustration to his well-known novel Akyrky Koch (literally: Final Journey). This picture was made specially for the movie by the well-known artist Bayysh Ismanov who is also the film’s production designer. From an artistic point of view, the painting clearly stands out with its originality, as the patriarch of Kyrgyz literature surrounds himself with interesting objects: we see a statuette of Lev Tolstoy, a bust of Alexander Pushkin on his table, there is also a figurine showing a person lifting a tunduk, which has been specially made for the film and is one of the images of the novel Akyrky Koch.

In the care home, the writer reads a book about the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. One of directors of the film, Dastan Japar Uulu, told me about this, remarking further that the arrangements in Aliev’s room in the care home are meant to remind us of Van Gogh’s well-known painting “Bedroom in Arles” (1888) which the artist painted again several times in 1889:
“Many simply copy the paintings of well-known artists. But we tried to bring back to live Van Gogh’s picture. Many try to find symptoms of his terrible madness, from which he allegedly suffered, in his pictures. In three paintings we see that the walls are bend towards the center of the room, the space is painfully twisted; but as it turned out, this room actually had curved walls because it had a trapezoid shape and was located under a bent roof. We compare this moment to the negative perception of care homes: everybody seems to see here an intolerably oppressive atmosphere and awful conditions, but Aliev lodged there, and we see that the conditions are normal, the employees are very attentive…”

edenAnother example is a shot with the terminally ill Sapar, who constantly lies on a bed; this very well rhymes with the painting of the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna “Dead Christ” (ca 1475-1478). The painting gained popularity because of the original composition, with Christ’s body lying on a stone, represented in an unusual foreshortening: not in parallel, but perpendicular to the horizontal axis. The frame with the terminally ill Sapar lying on a bed is also original; usually the bed stands alongside a wall or window. The filmmakers placed it in the center of the room, and the headboard is located between two windows. Sapar is still the head of the family, despite his paralysis. He is not only the center of the world for his family, but also for the patriarch Aliev, and for the publishing house that has published his book, and for the people who have given him money for the edition. We may assume that, had he not died, he would certainly have become the new spiritual leader of the people.

Aliev asks Tilek to take him to his native village. Without understanding why, Tilek takes him there. But there is the next disappointment: the yurt which Aliev’s mother made is in a deplorable state. Tilek’s elder brother, and therefore Aliev’s older nephew, waves his hand with irritation: why suddenly does the uncle need the yurt.

During the entire film, Aliev faces the indifference of the people around him towards objects of the olden days, the culture of the ancestors, and art. Tilek’s mistress says that all the books, the pictures, memorable photos, state awards, and the entire contents of the uncle’s apartment need to be dumped. Why does she command in the uncle’s apartment? Because Tilek has dexterously turned around the fraud, due to which the money from the sale from the uncle’s apartment to strangers (as the uncle fondly thought) would go to a good purpose (Sapar’s operation), and the apartment actually becomes Tilek’s property where he brings his mistress. In fact, this is a terrible truth, and it is good that the uncle never learnt about it. This film is a sentence to our unspiritual society. Things, books, pictures, figurines end up on the street in a literal sense, they are displayed for sale downtown, on the well-known patch between opera and ballet theater, the Fine Art Museum and the Bayalinov Library: a flea market. Among Aliev’s things is also the painting “The Last Nomads”, placed in the center of the sad composition of Aliev’s things offered for sale. The seller is an aksakal, Aliev’s peer, who is reading a book that could be Aliev’s well-known novel.

After the shock from the desolate state of the yurt (because nobody looked after it), the writer is in a state of utter distress and goes to his favorite apple-tree garden. The apples are ripe. It is hard for Aliev to walk, he leans on one of the apple-trees, then takes two steps into the garden and falls backwards.

This is the sad story of a writer whom nobody needed. The tragedy of the situation is that for people of his outlook there is no future: Aliev has no direct children and grandsons, the nephews are people with alien outlooks on life: they care only for profit at any cost, art and culture do not interest them. Aliev’s only hope is the young writer Sapar, who dies. Here is the tragic finale that the directors of the film Road to Eden offer us. The final credits are accompanied by the music of the young composer Balasagyn Musayev, and it sounds like a requiem to the patriarch of Kyrgyz literature who personifies the Soviet past of the Kyrgyz people. A requiem for leaving the era of socialism.

The film was made by Kyrgyzfilm Studio named after Okeev, together with the Bilimkana Fund and financial support of the Department of Cinematography of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Information of the Kyrgyz Republic. The film is devoted Talip Ibraimov’s memory, the writer, screenwriter, and publicist.

Gulbara Tolomushova

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The Road to Eden, Kyrgyzstan, 2020
Color. 120 minutes
Scriptwriters: Dastan Zhapar Uulu and Bakyt Mukul
Directors: Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar Uulu
Director of Photography: Dastan Zhapar Uulu
Production Design: Bayyshbek Ismanov
Composer: Balasagyn Musayev
Sound: Mars Tugelov
Editing: Aktan Ryskeldiyev
Producer: Aybek Dzhangaziyev
Co-producers: Elnura Osmonaliyeva, Bakyt Mukul and Dastan Zhapar уулу
Cast: Marat Alyshpaev, Bakyt Mukul, Shayyrgul Kasymalieva, Busurman Odurakaev, Gulsina Chotonova, Kalipa Usenova, etc.

Dastan Japar Uulu and Bakyt Mukul: The Road to Eden (Akyrky koch Kyrgyzstan, 2020)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2021

Updated: 2021