Central Asia




A social drama. A man accidentally crashes his car into a Mercedes. In order to pay for the damages the man borrows the money from somebody at high interest. The interest grows; the time flies and the man still cannot pay back the money. The man fails in every endeavor to make money in this society, where all rules are broken. He is unable to repay. Now his creditors demand that the man kill a person they specify. The protagonist becomes a killer but he himself turns into a victim of his creditors.

Darezhan Omirbayev is the Kazakh film director that has been critically acclaimed by European media the most. And the reason is not only for his social themes but also the intellectual aptitude of his films, the simplicity of his expressive cinema language, and the entirety and completeness of his film ideas. Jean Luc Godard named Darezhan Omirbayev "one of the most outstanding film directors of today." In my opinion, he is rather too distant and practical for the East, however the West finds him perfect: all cultural allusions are well transmitted and his emotional rhythm corresponds with the restrained nature of the western viewer. Darezhan is one of the few film directors who skipped the discourse of post-colonial cinema and stepped right into European filmmaking based on "a society in the transitional stage" themes.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that Darezhan Omirbayev received the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the Special Look program for his picture Killer. It didn’t look like a lucky fluke but rather the film director’s planned and consistent conquering of the Olympuses of world cinema, one by one –Locarno, Venice, Cannes…

The Silver Leopard Award at the Locarno Film Festival for the film Kairat came as a surprise! And the inclusion of the film Cardiogram in the main competition program at the Cannes Film Festival was also surprising.

The success of Killer was expected. A French company partially financed the post-production and during the award nomination the audience got an impression that it was a French picture. Maybe this was because the film director wasn’t present at the nomination.

A Kazakh film was included in the main competition program at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, and moreover, it received the second most prestigious prize and was celebrated without the director!

The film impressed me with its mathematical exactness in every scene, every frame – nothing was unnecessary and so many feelings were expressed. The first three or five minutes are shots of flea markets, a radio interview with the director of the Institute of Mathematics, in which a journalist asks him a question but instead of an answer – a long shot of a sleeping watchman, then the camera wanders through the endless corridors of the radio station. All these images describe the time and the people in more depth than scholarly analytical articles. This is a film about the confused time of people’s uncertainty, fear, vulnerability, and as a result an individual loses his believe and in himself in his own ability "to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them." One’s little mistake in this situation may lead to completely ruining one’s life – this is what happens to the protagonist of the film Killer.

With his system of images and metaphors, the film director develops several themes, which paint a picture of the current period. The protagonist’s apartment has thin walls and it gives a sense of fragility of his existence. Dark red dominates the color scheme and reminds of the color of dried blood. This color is almost too dominant in the film. Also, an insert from a Kafka story, read out loud by a strange cook at a roadside cafe, increases the sense of worry and hopelessness. This heavy feeling is elevated even more by shots of a character wandering lost in the labyrinth of the corridors of the radio station. Finally, the metaphor of the protagonist’s isolation is conveyed through the doors closed in his face and the silence of his friends and family.

The film Killer looks like a sequel to the director’s previous film Kairat (maybe this is why the actors playing the protagonists are look alikes – Kairat Makhamedov and Talgat Asetov). In Killer the hero looks more mature. He is not a bus driver anymore but a chauffeur for the director of an institute. He moved from a dormitory to a personal apartment, got married and his wife is expecting a baby. He was picking up his wife and their newborn baby boy, when he got in a car accident and crashed in the Mercedes of a very powerful man – from this moment on he starts to lose everything he has. Nobody can help him and lend him the money necessary to repay for the repairs: his relatives barely survive themselves; his boss commits suicide because his institute was closed; his friends promise to find somebody who can lend money with interest. A new type of relationship enters the life of the protagonist; now he has to count only on himself because the meter is running on the interest.

The film Killer makes the viewer to feel the fear of a hunted animal on his skin. The finale is, of course, defined – as soon as the protagonist steps over the border of morality, he gets destroyed. "May one never live during times of change," a Chinese proverb states and it can fully serve as an epigraph to this film.

Despite of seemingly lapidary quality, Darezhan Omirbayev’s cold style has a magic appeal – it creates a dream-like space for the action – it’s a "dream in a dream" in its own way. When the film ends, the viewer feels – Oh what happiness that it didn’t happen to me! It recalls the reaction of a person waking up from a nightmare and feeling relieved that it was only a nightmare!

The struggle of the protagonist is similar to wandering in the labyrinth without an exit. It doesn’t matter how much he tries to find a solution to his situation because it inevitably takes him closer to disaster. The film director answers the eternal questions, "What to do?" and "Who is responsible for this?" with the joke told at the beginning of the film:

The president of a country asks his entourage: "Where are all people with gold hands? (Where are all highly skilled craftsmen?)" The entourage answers: "They left." The president asks: "Where are all people with gold heads? (Where are all highly intelligent people?)" the entourage answers: "They left." The president says: "My gold-toothed people, what are we going to do without them? (The gold-toothed people represent financial opportunists climbing to the top of the social ladder during economically unstable times.)"


Kazakhstan/France, 1998, 75 minutes, color

Director: Darezhan Omirbayev

Screenwriter: Limara Zheksembayeva

Cinematographer: Boris Troshin

Production Designer: Alim Sabitov

Producers: Gaziz Shaldibayev and Joel Frage

Cast: Talgat Asetov, Roksana Abuova, Askar Rakhimzhanov, Bolat Sizdikov, Viktor Shin

Kadam (Kazakhstan) and Artkam (France)


Awards and Participation in Film Festivals:

Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, in the program "Special Look", 1998

Participation in more than 30 Film Festivals

Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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