Issue 40 (2013)

Elizaveta Stishova: The Seagull (Chaika, 2013)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2013

The Hope of the Last Teacher

“I am convinced that, without sound knowledge of Russian, we cannot become good professionals in any area, because no information—neither scientific, nor technical, nor humanitarian—that would meet modern requirements, is available in Kyrgyz language.” (Talip Ibraimov in Shakir 2013)

“Have you read Evening Bishkek?”—the zealous defender of the Russian language and retired literature teacher Talip does not give the director a school on Lake Issyk-Kul a break even to go to the toilet. He wants to make the head-teacher aware that the pain of losing the subject in the curriculum is not only his, Talip’s; the popular newspaper of the capital also voices its distress: “Already 70 per cent of the population speak no Russian,” and Talip adds: “and next year it’ll be 100 per cent.” (Shakir 2013)

The Muscovite Elizaveta Stishova, a graduate from the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors, has made a short film with an original idea, accomplished in form, and ideally performed: The Seagull. It deals with the current status of Russian in Kyrgyzstan.

chaika stishovaIf Andrei Konchalovsky and Larissa Shepitko came to Kyrgyzstan in 1960 to make their debut films, working with a well-known literary source (both had long chosen a piece by Chingiz Aitmatov), then Stishova decided to live in Kyrgyzstan and work with Kyrgyz colleagues. As an employee of Aitysh Film, she had the opportunity to go to one of the remotest areas of our country. She grew fond of the Kyrgyz land and its people and she devoted all her spare time to an all-round study of the political and cultural life of Kyrgyzstan.

The results of her intellectual work, her observation of the people’s life, and her research on the general situation in our country form the basis for the film The Seagull, which is devoted to the uncompromising struggle of the elderly teacher for the place of Russian language and literature in a small settlement on the shore of Lake Issyk Kul. Talip struggles forcefully, fighting without rules; he makes incorrect assumptions about a young Turkish colleague and uses unpedagogical methods to involve pupils in out-of-class employment: he stages a performance of Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull, one of the most demanded plays in the world.

The portly Turkish teacher spreads his language and culture confidently and easily, unlike the explosive Talip, who is literally mad with rage when he sees the Turk’s superiority. In a dream when Talip treats some great, Russian writers (Chekhov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi) to a cooked sheep’s head, the pensioner says with bitterness: “They think that will learn Turkish and life will get better.” For the children, the lessons and the pleasant, entertaining methods of the Turkish classes are a miracle, and they attend with a smile—though by and large they don’t care about Turkish culture. Talip embarks on an open fight against the Turk: “I have worked at this school for 30 years. I’m an Honoured Teacher! And you are who?”

chaikaTalip also conducts an unequal fight with a society that does not understand the sense of his struggle for Russian, because “nobody will return the Soviet Union.” But our epoch is rather paradoxical: all the teachers of Talip’s school, starting with the headmaster, suddenly and hastily leave Kyrgyzstan on the day of the premier of The Seagull to go to Russia and earn money on construction sites. 

Only the Turk stays to watch the performance, along with the female Russian cook and her son, and Talip’s own son—strangely enough a shepherd, ass well as the chicken and the sheep, and of course her majesty, Lake Issyk-Kul…

Stishova’s The Seagull makes at once several references to the past and the present: to Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull; and at least to one of its fourteen screen versions (for me, this was Iulii Karasik’s film of 1971); to Chingiz Aitmatov’s story The First Teacher (Pervyi uchitel’) and Konchalovsky’s screen version of the same title (1965); to the reflections of Margarita Terekhova about Chekhov’s play: “I am convinced that Chekhov wrote The Seagull for the cinema. The cinema was only just born then;” and to the directorial debut of the well-known actress with The Seagull (2006); and to the last publications of Talip Ibraimov.

The “first teacher” Duishen in Aitmatov’s story and Konchalovsky’s film is illiterate, but he is devoted to the revolution; he exposes the most capable schoolgirl Altynai and sends her to the city to study. The “last teacher” Talip, an “elderly, worthy, but very poor man” among young actors could distinguish that charisma in Nurgul’, who becomes “the seagull.” Nurgul’ is a pupil from Issyk-Kul, in real life sincerely in love, but her chosen one (the shepherd, Talip’s son) is not yet ready to accept her feelings. Nurgul’ opens up to him, quoting Chekhov. Probably at the moment of her quivering recital of Nina Zarechnaya’s monologue on the shore of the lake, the first feelings awaken in the teenager. And we should not forget that Chekhov wrote the play in a state of love. Nurgul’ has reached freedom, the sensation of a state of flight like the seagull, and she is indifferent to the fact that the auditorium is in the open air and that there are so few people there. She soars above this frail world, her flight accompanied by the bewitched look of her teacher Talip.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Works Cited

Shakir, Olzhobai, “Talip Ibraimov: Degradatsiia obshchestva v Kyrgyzstane zashla slishkom daleko,” Interview with Ibraimov,, 26 February 2013,

Terekhova, Margarita, “Chaika—eto nemyslimoe dazhe dlia Antona Chekhova!”, interview with Vita Ramm, Ekho Moskvy, n.d.

The Seagull, Kyrgyzstan, 2012
30 minutes, color
Director: Elizaveta Stishova
Cast: Asan Amans (Talip), Aidan Satybekova (Nurgul’), Iunnus Tekche (Turkish teacher)
Production: Aitysh Film and Seepwell Pictures

Festival St Anna: Awards for Best Film, Best Script and Best Cinematography

Elizaveta Stishova: The Seagull (Chaika, 2013)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2013

Updated: 13 Apr 13