Issue 40 (2013)

Temir Birnazarov: Passion (Kumar, 2013)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2013

A Hidden Life

sponsorTemir Birnazarov has completed work on his new film, Passion (working title The Sponsor). It is the story of people who have no intention to expose their lives. Therefore, the action largely takes place in twilight. The interiors are stripped of natural light: the windows are covered with heavy curtains. The majority of the film consists of long shots, while wide-angle shots are missing entirely. All the mise-en-scenes are static, and the individual takes tend to be long.

The heroes are in the grip of a set of rules. They lead a secret life, hidden from extraneous eyes, yet the audience is let into this life: we, the spectators, are expert observers of this life. The director seems to give to us the opportunity (or the right) to observe the protagonists by offering an unusual format of rendering the material. He believes that the expert-viewers are capable of joining fragments and nuances in their minds, and reach the right conclusion.

Birnazarov applies the method of differentiating the “theatrical space” of the action (on the screen) and expert-observers (in the auditorium). The action has already been filmed, with spectators in mind. For comparison: in his Route of Hope (Neizvestnyi marshrut, 2008) the spectator-experts were rooted a priori inside the bus, which was an open space for the play.

sponsorA substantial part of Passion did not develop immediately. The initial plan (Vechnaia nevesta/The Eternal Bride) underwent significant changes in connection with the fast-changing situation in Kyrgyzstan. The Eternal Bride would have been topical in 2009, when the author wrote it; the script dealt with the irresponsibility of parents towards their children, which has irreversible consequences. However, today Birnazarov needed a different content, and he understood this only too well. He continued to track the situation, constantly scanning reality for its weak spots, so that he could, in the end, reveal them masterfully as if dissecting the ulcers of society.

The first appearance of the film’s protagonist Sagyn positions him as the fine owner of a brand-new elite apartment. He puts the shopping into the refrigerator, tidies the bedroom, puts on an apron and starts to make supper. Everything Sagyn does is done carefully and accurately, as if he was expecting the arrival of a dear guest. He is a gray-haired, but young-looking and smart man with the rather pleasant appearance of a professor. In the introduction there is no close up of the protagonist, so that we want to know even more urgently who he is and whom he is waiting for.

sponsorThe answer to that question comes in the following episode, which is shot in the open air. Two girls are sitting and talking on a bench. One of them says that she was chosen from numerous candidates who want to work in Korea: “Now I need to find 1,000 dollars for the fare!—Ask your sponsor.” So, obviously Sagyn has a secret relationship, hidden from extraneous eyes, with this young, delightful girl.

When I asked the filmmaker whether his hero is an oligarch, he answered: “He is a government official. In our country, officials are the richest people. Recently, the price of a one of their signatures reached 100,000 dollars. And simply to get an appointment you had to pay 10,000 dollars.” The Kyrgyz press has repeatedly carried sharp publications on the theme of the “prestige of the civil service.” Here is a fragment of one such article: “… it is no exaggeration that there are very rich people among Kyrgyz officials. Most surprisingly, they are to be found among officials who have not spent a single day in business, at least in legal business” (Delo №, 21 February 2013).

In the role of Sagyn is the well-known Kyrgyz filmmaker Artyk Suyundukov. This choice is not accidental: in the film Thief in Love (Vliublennyi vor, dir. Ernest Abdyjaparov, 2010) Suyundukov also played a corrupt official, who for the public eye was called “Mister Ten Per Cent”, because for every investment in the country, he sliced off ten per cent from the total sum for his own pocket.

sponsorArtyk Suyundukov acted in cinema in his youth. He possesses a skill that is rare among Kyrgyz actors: the charisma of a stylish intellectual who keeps in pace with time. Under Birnazarov’s direction he controls his emotions, which allows him to masterfully embody internal changes without changing externally. The image of Sagyn shows in a microscopic section what has been hidden from society: the private life of the recent national elite. In a conversation Birnazarov also noticed: “From people with a comely appearance you never expect any dirty acts.”

In the meantime Sagyn and the young Aizhan have supper. We already know what connects them: from the side it seems that they are, if not grandfather and granddaughter, then father and daughter. The content of their conversation is focused on study, upbringing, and education. Sagyn tries to inspire the girl to study well, to be an advanced student. But Aizhan does not want to stretch herself. On the question about exam results she answers: “They want money.”—“Give them money, and you’ll pass the exam,” Sagyn teaches her, and again inquires: “Have you enrolled on the English course?”—“It’s expensive,” she says.—“But I told you to enrol.” Aizhan also asks to be allowed to go to her mother’s village he next day to wish her a happy birthday. The man allows her to do so and gives her a book: “Take this and read it, it’s a very good book!”

sponsorThe endless quantity of money allows Sagyn to feel like the owner of his life: the son asked for half a million for the rental of a house in a prestigious area of London—here you are! The sponsor is not only generous to Aizhan, but also to his lawful wife Maria. As the old saying goes, money alone does not make a man happy. Maria got used to her situation with dignity and without hysterics. What else can she do? Sagyn’s wife is simply not able to provide for herself, so her destiny is to suffer the regular affairs of her husband.

With Aizhan, things are not that simple. This girl has the eyes of a lynx: she is an excellent psychologist. She made Sagyn fall in love with her, although he does not realise the full scale of his emotional involvement yet, until a critical moment arises and the girl dumps him, at which point he behaves inadequately. Obviously, the man has become seriously attached to her. But passions must be controlled!

The scene when Aizhan leaves him is one of the best in the film. Sagyn sits in silence. Aizhan comes out of the bathroom and is also quiet. Sagyn asks: “That guy, who is he?” For the first time, we see a medium shot of Sagyn and can discern his face. We might want to see a close-up of the protagonist, but the director does not yet allow us such an opportunity. Aizhan starts to collect her things quickly. All this time Sagyn sits silently, with his head lowered.

sponsorAizhan leaves. Sagyn remains seated for a long time, his head still lowered. He is in a state of shock. He takes off his glasses. He raises his head. He is shaken. He goes to the window. He wants to get some fresh air. He opens the window. For the first time a breeze of fresh nocturnal air enters Sagyn’s space. The curtain flutters, seemingly echoing the pace of the protagonist’s heart. The rhythmical movement is reminiscent of a wave.

The abandoned man sits on a padded stool near the window. Sagyn, shaken by the trick of his girl, for whose love and caresses he has paid dearly, slowly lies down on the hassock, since he has no force to sit upright. It seems that he has no force left to live. The girl’s cynicism has broken him.

Really the lynx-girl is not as simple as it first seemed to Sagyn. The mother could not find a way to her daughter either. Aizhan is secretive in the conversation with her, even if she hands over large sums of money. The mother takes the money and never asks where it comes from. The sponsor supports a whole army of cheapskates, who have got used to receiving gratuitous money as tips.

While Aizhan cheerfully spends her time with the first guy she comes across, Sagyn is broken, deeply wounded, and sorry for his wife. This scene is also staged unconventionally: Sagyn sits with the back to the spectators. Suyundukov never lets his suffering be seen, never turns his face to the camera. At one point he starts to cry. He bends his head over and sobs violently, unable to stop.

sponsorIn the meantime the lynx-girl enjoys the company of her new suitor. However, the quick affair brings them no joy. Aizhan returns to Sagyn. After the  excitement, the man visits a hairdresser’s salon. Here we see Sagyn’s face in a close-up for the first time. While the hairdresser does his hair, we scrutinise his face. He is a handsome, refined, gray-haired man, with fine features, without a single wrinkle. 

He is a weak, immoral and poor man who is not capable of controlling his passions, because in a moment of sincere crisis he admits to his wife: “I am so drawn towards her [Aizhan], that I cannot do anything with myself!” He is a little, insignificant man who put before himself a useless aim: to get into the public sector by any means, so he can doss and get fantastically rich. The lowly aim has been achieved, and through bribes the love of young girls can be bought, as well as real estate to satisfy his needs.

Such narrow water drainages of monetary streams place the sponsor in a deadlock …

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Passion (working title The Sponsor) , Kyrgyzstan, 2013,
Color, 83 minutes
Scriptwriter and Director: Temir Birnazarov
DoP: Dastan Zhapar uulu
Production Design: Baiysh Ismanov
Producers: Temir Birnazarov, Emir Sarpashev
Cast: Artykpai Suyundukov (Sponsor), Kalipa Usenova (Aizhan), Roza Abdullaeva (Maria), Dariya Khuseinova (Mother)
Production: Film Company Tazar and National Film Studio Kyrgyzfilm named after Tolomush Okeev

Temir Birnazarov: Passion (Kumar, 2013)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2013

Updated: 09 Jun 13