Issue 72 (2021)

Ayub Shakhobiddinov: Colorless Dreams (Rangsiz Tushlar, Uzbekistan 2020) 

reviewed by Seth Graham © 2021

colorlessdreamsWith eight films (shorts and features) under his belt since the beginning of his directing career in 2003, many of which have been screened at international festivals, Ayub Shakhobiddinov has emerged as one of Uzbekistan’s most prominent and “exportable” filmmakers. He is also one of only a few that favors contemporary drama in a film industry that has been somewhat dominated by historical period pieces and other popular genres for three decades now, under the firm guidance of the Uzbek government and its interest in controlling the representation of the country’s past and present on screen.

Shakhobiddinov’s last feature, Heaven—My Abode (Parizod, 2012), depicted the effects on a small community of the arrival of a mysterious young woman with a tragic past that is gradually revealed over the course of the narrative. His latest film, Colorless Dreams, relies on a similar plot device, albeit in a quite different visual and dramaturgical form, and without the subtle presence of traditional Uzbek folk belief and the supernatural that characterized the previous work. The measured yet compelling screenplay is by Umid Khamdamov, who is himself a director; his film Hot Bread (Issiq non, 2019) was Uzbekistan’s submission for the Best International Feature Film in the 2020 Academy Awards (although it was not shortlisted).

colorlessdreamsThe title of Shakhobiddinov’s film refers to the self-described mental state and lack of affect suffered by the protagonist, a woman named Kashmira, who returns to Uzbekistan and to her parents’ house after spending 17 years in prison abroad. While her mother welcomes her home, and some of her other relatives (especially her young nephew) are happy to see her, she is estranged from her father and two of her brothers, one of whose wife tells Kashmira that she doesn’t want her daughter to grow up knowing her. As Kashmira attempts to rebuild her relationships and her life—getting a new passport, taking driving lessons, finding a job and an apartment, and even becoming a mother-figure to her nephew—we gradually learn more about her crime, and about her character along the way. She calmly tells one job interviewer that she was imprisoned for killing a man. Soon we learn that the murder victim was her husband, but she refuses to tell anyone why she did it. An old friend who invites her out for a drink turns out to be the only other person who knows the reason, and Kashmira asks her to keep the secret. Through dialogue and brief flashbacks, we learn that the husband was a foreigner, from an Arab country, and that her decision to marry him had already alienated her family, even before the murder and her arrest and imprisonment.

colorlessdreamsWhile Aziz Arzikulov’s cinematography and Ubaidulla Karimov’s score mesh well with the screenplay and direction, much of the film’s effectiveness comes from the powerful and understated performance by Feruza Saidova as Kashmira, who credibly maintains the expression and bearing of a woman who is clearly traumatized, yet imbued with great inner strength and resourcefulness. The final revelation of Kashmira’s motive—via her own anguished monologue that serves both as a moment of psychological release and relief for her, and as a delivery of knowledge to the viewer in suspense—seems a bit rushed, given the even pacing of the rest of the film, and comes at the very end of the narrative. It is not followed up by any sort of denouement. The explanation for Kashmira’s crime and traumatized psyche also expands the plot’s scope from the local and familial to the context of international organized crime and sex trafficking. This is not to suggest that Khamdamov and Shakhobiddinov missed an opportunity by not exploring this plot element in more depth, or that they should have taken the opportunity to make a stronger visual and narrative engagement with an issue that has undeniable relevance in contemporary Central Asia (and indeed the whole of the former Soviet sphere), but the dramatic reveal does leave a lingering sense of imbalance in an otherwise expertly executed piece of filmmaking.

Seth Graham,
University College London

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Colorless Dreams, Uzbekistan, 2020
Color, 80 min.
Director: Ayub Shakhobiddinov
Screenplay: Umid Khamdamov
Cinematography: Aziz Arzikulov
Music: Ubaidulla Karimov
Cast: Feruza Saidova, Karim Mirkhodiev, Shokhida Ismoilova, Bekhzod Abdumikhitov, Asal Abdullaeva
Production: Uzbekfilm

Ayub Shakhobiddinov: Colorless Dreams (Rangsiz Tushlar, Uzbekistan 2020) 

reviewed by Seth Graham © 2021

Updated: 2021