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Ernest Abdyzhaparov, Village Authorities [Ayil-Okmotu] aka as Saratan (2004)

reviewed by Michael Rouland©2005

                Ernest Abdyzhaparov’s new film begins with a long shot of a farmhouse, where barking dogs and the interruption of an alarm clock break the early morning silence.  A lone policeman paces in an empty square.  The town begins to stir and the adhan, or call to prayer, sounds over a loudspeaker affirming the greatness of God.  “Our mullah overslept again,” the protagonist, Kabylbek, the chairman of a farm cooperative, declares to punctuate the daily ritual.  Village Authorities (also known as Village under Sky and screened as Saratan at the Berlinale Film Festival) presents a thoughtful and engaging film that examines the transformation of village life in the wake of Kyrgyz independence. 

The narrative develops within the limited landscape of one small town (shot in the village of Kok-Moinok, situated along the Issyk-kul).  Idlers, passersby, and young people dancing at night come together in the central square that epitomizes the village.  Emphasizing its remoteness and insufficiency, the solitary town kiosk and the farcical policeman remain fixed in this square.  Pedestrians stop and wait to be guided across the dirt emptiness by the efficacious traffic monitor who seems to live in his hutch.

The central characters signify rich religious, social, philosophical, and political dichotomies: the morally upright but weak farm cooperative chair, the zealous but libertine police inspector, the bumbling traffic cop, the self-righteous but unemployable alcoholic trio, the nouveau riche dressed in tennis whites, the Communist propagandist, the Jehovah’s Witness, the clueless mullah, the folk healer, the village thief, and the babushka.  In all, Abdyzhaparov employs over forty characters to demonstrate the vicissitudes of village life as the film portrays several days of their lives and conflicts. 

                  

The storyline comes across as less important than the exploration of competing worldviews in contemporary Kyrgyz life.  The event that initiates the drama, the theft of an old woman’s ram, is solved for the viewer relatively early in the film while other debates remain unresolved.  An ideological mélange of the post-socialist Kyrgyz present comes across forcefully.  The village Communist declares that “[officials] are stealing the country!  We need socialism.”  While the Communist is sent to jail to write a confession of his guilt, other characters contemplate their own profound wisdoms.  Advising the protagonist after a near death experience, the folk healer recommends: “Don’t search for God in heaven.  Everything that a person needs is here on earth.”  And hinting at inter-generational struggle, the Jehovah’s Witness, named “Sotsialbek” and born on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, condemns the local religious hold of Islam: “Islamic terrorists kill innocent people.  Who needs this belief?”  The careful balancing act of Kabylbek, between his roles as aksakal (literally, “white beard,” or respected elder) and town manager beholden to the new economic elite, serves as a lesson in the new social landscape of Kyrgyzstan.  Abdyzhaparov highlights the protagonist’s blending of traditional and socialist mores, despite the same pressures within his own family, where Kabylbek’s son aspires to a career as an “Image Maker.”

Juxtaposed with the comedy of these oppositional interactions, we witness images of the transformation of Kyrgyz life as well.  As the older woman files a police report concerning her missing ram, she learns new lessons in civic realities.  When she asks how long it will take to learn the fate of her prized ram, the police investigator (Salamat) answers: “Wait for the mail.  You will receive our answer there.”  While this evokes an international platitude, Abdyzhaparov also imparts a glimpse more specific to post-Soviet politics.  To excuse the limitations of his investigative ability, Salamat argues: “Earlier Moscow gave money to everyone, and now Russia left us.  Now there isn’t enough for everyone…  Earlier people looked to the government.  And now the government depends on the people.  But everything will be good.  The people have me…”  By the end of the film, however, the village loses him when his personal struggle with the town thief ends with his own replacement.

Village Authorities concludes with the community coming together to reap the harvest.  The bulk of town’s population is there in an empty field with the enthusiasm of an old Socialist Realist novel; red flags (in the form of Kyrgyzstan’s new flag) wave as the tractor takes off and the crowd dutifully follows.  The fact that the wealthy landowner provided the fuel for the tractor and that most of the harvest will be diverted to him only illustrates the inequalities and uncertainties of post-Soviet life.  At the same moment, the three drunken observers to this town project offer a different filmic perspective in the form of typical Shakespearean comic relief:  “Poor people...  they would not suspect even the end of the earth!  They think about their stomachs, not about their souls!  Nothing is eternal, but souls roam for centuries.”

Moving away from shorts and documentaries, Abdyzhaparov sought to make a film that his Kyrgyz audience would understand and enjoy.  And he succeeds in producing a poignant, witty, and entertaining film that expresses the comedy of everyday life and that tests the potential paths of Kyrgyzstan’s future.  This film also bridges an important gap in Central Asian cinema: intended for local audiences, the film maintains an auteur’s eye on the international scene. Steeped in realism, Abdyzhaparov provides a window into contemporary Kyrgyz life that many outsiders would also appreciate.

Made for $120,000, primary funding for the film was provided by the recently established Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund, which promotes the production and distribution of films made outside Europe and North America.  Through its prize for Best Screenplay at KinoShock (Anapa, 2004) and its exposure at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival, Village Authorities has garnered international fame.  It is not inconceivable to think that Abdyzhaparov’s new film could step outside the shadow of Aktan Abdykalykov’s more acclaimed Beshkempir (1998) and signal a bright future for Kyrgyz cinema. 

 

Michael Rouland, Havighurst Center, Miami University of Ohio

 


Village Authorities, Kyrgyzstan and Germany, 2004

Color, 85 minutes

Director: Ernest Abdyzhaparov

Screenplay: Ernest Abdyzhaparov

Camera: Georges Khamitsky and Talant Akynbekov

Art Director: Sharip Zhailobaev

Costumes: Oroz Absattarov

Music: Ernest Abdyzhaparov

Sound: Bakyt Niyazaliev

Editor: Saida Sadykova

Cast: Kumender Abylov (Kabylbek Kaparovich). Askat Sulaimanov (Salamat), Tabyldy Aktanov (Tashmat), Mukhambet Tozhtobaev (Karybai), Turgunbai Berdagzhiev (Zarylbek), Kanybek Bekbatyrov (Berdybek), Zhambyl Kamchiev (Baltabai), Bolot Tilebaldzhiev (Sotsialbek), and Tailaikan Abazova (Akylai).

Producers: Tynai Ibragimov, Herbert Schwering, Hans-Erich Fit

Production: Kyrgyzfilm, Fit-Film, Icon Film


Ernest Abdyzhaparov, Village Authorities [Ayil-Okmotu] aka as Saratan (2004)

reviewed by Michael Rouland©2005

10/07/05