Rufat Hasanov: My Grief is Light (2015) and Natig Rasul: The Second Bullet (2017)

reviewed by Sevda Sultanova © 2018

Azerbaijan in Shorts: The Filmmakers Rufat Hasanov and Natig Rasul

In the history of Azerbaijani cinema short films were generally ahead of feature films in terms of cinematic language, artistic quality and interesting treatment. However, in the period of independence—especially in the last 10–15 years—shorts have, as a rule, been made by young filmmakers. Shorts are not considered prestigious, but as some way of checking whether a young director is capable of making a feature film paid for by the state.

In Azerbaijan, cinema is financed only through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and it is difficult to find alternative funding sources. Therefore young directors are forced to accept the conditions of state officials. Indeed, directors value the short form not as a step forward, but as a step back in the profession. They perceive it not as serious art, but as a way of receiving consent from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for a full-length project.

But this is not the only problem. Elderly officials of the ministry in charge of cinema don’t allow young directors of shorts to fully realize their ideas. These officials don’t accept innovative views and ideas, a different relationship of life and art; therefore scripts which don’t correspond to their abstract criteria are either rejected or exposed to censorship. As a result, in many cases the films are inadequate as they cannot render the personal experiences, observations, and views of young directors. Nevertheless, there are also authors who—despite the intervention of officials during film production—manage to create a normal product. In this article I shall talk about the films of two directors worthy of attention.

 

Rufat Hasanov’s My Grief is Light is one of five shorts contained in the almanac Urban Motives 4.1, produced by Azerbaijanfilm Studio on request of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2014. The almanac has been shown at Cottbus IFF in 2015, and at Sofia MENAR IFF in 2016.

my griefThe drama My Grief is devoted to a topic rarely encountered in Azerbaijani cinema: the serious and topical problem of the way of life of modern youth. The film’s protagonist is a young musician (Roman Shul’ga), who is not lucky in life. He practices underground music and earns only little. His family—parents and wife—are dissatisfied with him. His modern world view and his free way of life clash with the traditional, conservative family values, and the confrontation of different life models creates a conflict.

One day the young musician is invited to perform at a high-society party. For a large fee he agrees. But his performance doesn’t seem to interest the guests and they beat him down. The protagonist cannot continue his rebelliousness to the end; he doesn’t have enough energy to fight for the values he believes in. He reconciles with the circumstances, surrenders to the family traditions and the stereotypic thinking of society. The finale is metaphoric: the musician’s little son gives him the cat’s excrements, expressing thus his failure. In his story Hasanov explores some important problems at social, everyday and cultural levels.

First, the conservative thinking of the older generation is contrasted with the desire of the young to live as they wish. Second, there is the problem of the artist and society. The taste of the masses is not yet ready to accept another, alternative art; the masses are even prepared to forcefully derail the artist. Innovation has practically no support in society. The hero faces these problems, and when he has to change something and make a final decision, he remains passive and cannot find within himself the power to withstand the current.

In this sense the conflict remains within the protagonist: to stick with his artistic credo, which goes against mass culture and brings little income; or reconcile with the requirement of the masses and distance himself from his own views. Thus the young musician endures an existential crisis in the given circumstances. In the scene of the glamorous party, the emphasis is placed through close-ups on the faces of the young people, while the editing reminds us of the feeling of Shadows by John Cassavetes (1959). The fragmentary nature of the faces is a symbol of reality. The characters are real musicians, and the story is filmed in a documentary manner.

Before this film, Hasanov made the feature film Chameleon (Buqälämun, 2012) with the young director Elvin Adigozel. Chameleon also concerns youth issues, people who cannot find themselves in modern reality. The filmmakers raise existential questions about young people and investigate problems of the young generation: Where is today’s youth? How do they live? What are young people’s dreams, what are their worries?

Chameleon shows young people who buy and sell a house, and we get acquainted with them during the process of purchase and sale, we see how they live. The characters are people who fight for their existence, for survival in harsh social circumstances. This saturated social drama shows the reality of Azerbaijan’s society. They are like chameleons, compelled to change their color according to the environment in which they live, because they have no other chance, no alternative. In 2013 Chameleon participated in the Locarno IFF—for the first time in the history of Azerbaijani cinema that a film went to this event.

 

The script for the film The Second Bullet by Natig Rasoul was the winner of script competition New Breath (Yeni nəfəs) held by the Azerbaijan Union of Cinematographers in 2013. The premier of the film, produced at Narimanfilm, took place in 2017, and it is the debut of the young filmmaker.

second bulletThe film begins with a very important, sacred custom: with a wedding. In a remote village a wedding comes to the end and the groom (Elmin Badalov) hurries to the bride to fulfill a man’s duty. The best man (Manaf Dadashov) and the best woman (who testifies that the bride was a virgin until the wedding night) (Nasiba Eldarova) await the groom. The best man has to report whether the bride was a virgin or not. But this information is awaited not only by the best man and woman, but by the entire village.

According to the custom, the groom’s friend (or best man) has to fire a shot from a gun to notify the entire village. One shot means that the bride was not a virgin; two shots mean that she was a virgin. Despite the fact that the bride was a virgin, the best friend shoots only once, because the second bullet is faulty and the second shot doesn’t fire. Eager to find another bullet, the friend knocks at almost all the doors in the village, but finds nothing. And the entire village waits for the second shot. The friends of the groom don’t believe in the faulty bullet. The bride’s father (Vidadi Gasanov), intending to stop this shame and save his honor, takes an axe and comes to the house of the groom to punish his daughter. The groom, together with the best man, convince him of the daughter’s virginity.

The desperate friend eventually turns to a prostitute (Husniya Murvatova). She refuses at first, but then gives him some bullets. But when they return to the house, they cannot find the gun. This time a shot is heard from the bride’s room. The bride has committed suicide and the father sighs with relief.

The film is devoted to a very important problem, which is still topical in our society: virginity. Even now in some regions of Azerbaijan, if the bride is not a virgin on the wedding night, this can end in tragedy. The director’s choice of location in the provinces is not accidental, because in the city this custom—the control over girls’ virginity—gradually loses relevance. But even so, virginity is an important factor and a symbol of the institute of family.

In Azerbaijani cinema the subject of virginity is addressed for the first time. The director, mixing absurd and farcical elements, turns the subject into a tragicomedy. The filmmaker bravely pulls the theme of “virginity” from the moral context and sneers at the issue. Thus he brings to light the immorality of people who attribute such importance to virginity. Believing that the bride was not a virgin, the friends of the groom already make plans to sleep with her. And for the father, ready to kill his daughter, virginity is an absolute moral value.

In the end it emerges that the only morally sound person in the village is the prostitute. By implication, the director suggests that she, too, once fell victim to this custom. For the entire film the bride remains behind closed doors and the viewer doesn’t see her. For the story, she actually is a nobody: she has no right of word, her thoughts are not interesting to anyone, and as a character she doesn’t exist in this society. The camera scrutinizes on a sore point of society and mocks people who consider virginity as a measure of spiritual values.

NB. In some areas of the Caucasus the virginity the bride is actually declared by gunshot.

 

Sevda Sultanova
Translated by Birgit Beumers

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Biographies

“Ru” Rufat Hasarov, born in Baku in 1987, graduated from Bates College, Lewiston in 2009; participated  in the Moscow Film Institute Summer School, the graduated from the Higher Courses for Directors and Scriptwriters (workshop Vladimir Fokin) in 2012. Editor on a number of Russian films, including Intimate Places (N. Merkulova and A. Chupov, 2013) and Brother Deyan (B. Bakuradze, 2015). His feature debut Chameleon (Buqälämun, with Elvin Adigozel) participated in Locarno IFF.

Natig Rasul, born in Baku, Azerbaijan. Studied International Relations at The Academy of Public Administration under the President of Azerbaijan Republic. From 2012 attended several workshops and master-classes in filmmaking. In 2013 completed a 4-month course on “Film Producing” at Baku Film Institute. In 2013 won the short film script competition New Breath, organized and held by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan in collaboration with the Cinematographer’s Union of the Azerbaijan Republic. He started working as a director and copywriter at Narimanfilm in 2014. Made several corporate videos, such as instruction and safety videos, company promotional and brand videos.


My Grief is Light (Russian title: Pechal’ moia svetla, 2015), 25 min
Director and Scriptwriter: Rufat Hasanov
DoP: Mikhail Belkin.
Production Design: Rafik Nasirov
Composer: Roman Sulqa
Cast: Roman Sulqa, Ali Nasib, Timur Ender
Producers: Mushfig Hatamov, Irada Bagirzade
Production: Azerbaijanfilm & Adari Films

The Second Bullet (İkinci güllə, 2017) [Russian title: Vtoroi vystrel]
Director: Natig Rasul
Scriptwriter: Natig Rasul
DoP: Kirill Gerra
Cast: Vidadi Gasanov, Nasiba Eldarova, Usniya Murvetova, Leyli Veliyeva, Manar Dadashev, Elmin Badalov, Elgyun Gamidov.
Producer: Nariman Mamedov
Production: Narimanfilm
Festival: Busan Short Film Festival, 2018; LET’S CEE Film Festival Vienna, 2018

Rufat Hasanov: My Grief is Light (2015) and Natig Rasul: The Second Bullet (2017)

reviewed by Sevda Sultanova © 2018

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