Central Asian Cinema

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whaleallright
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Central Asian Cinema

#1 Post by whaleallright » Fri Feb 11, 2011 5:09 pm

I mentioned elsewhere on this board (in an ages-old post I can no longer find) that the Central Asian republics have a rich filmmaking tradition that, save for a few recent festival favorites, is scarcely known outside of the former Soviet Union--indeed, it's a tradition that's been largely forgotten even there. Central Asian films made some impact in Europe as art films, but they also had a significant role in the popular cinema of the USSR. "Red Westerns" or "Easterns" (!) as well as folkloristic frescos often played to large audiences throughout the USSR.

Needless to say, very few of these films are available on DVD. A few are on Russian DVDs, e.g. Andrey Konchalovsky's lovely film "The First Teacher," but without subtitles for those who don't speak Russian or one of the Central Asian languages. It's just one of the many shames of world film culture that these robust national cinemas are (with the exception of some director-based retros here and there; and one major French retro in the early nineties, on the cusp of the breakdown of the USSR) out of view.

Actually, I'm writing this because there's been a minor change in this. A series of films by Uzbek director Ali Khamraev, curated by Seagull Films, has been making its way across the USA. It's now at the Film Center in Chicago.

I hope those who can, will see these films and report back here. I've read about them but have never had a chance to see them. (I may try to get down to Chicago to do so, but it will be difficult.)

Other news is that the documentaries of Kazakhstan-based director Sergey Dvortsevoy will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Mark Rance at Watchmaker Films some time this year.

But the films I'm most dying to see are those by Tolomush Okeev, a Kirgiz director who benefited from a small retro in 2005. If anyone has a line on subtitled copies, I'm all ears...

I should say, for those who read French and can find a good library, there's a wonderful volume published on the occasion of the aforementioned Centre Pompidou retro that has a great wealth of information on the history of Central Asian cinema as well as key directors and films. And it has an incredibly detailed filmography, if I recall--albeit one that only goes through 1990, when the book was put together. I think the volume has a little bit on the so-called "Kazakh New Wave," which was very recent at the time (e.g. Nugmanov's Igla/The Needle).

Here's the cite: Jean Radvanyi, Ato Akhrorov, and Marilyne Fellous, eds. Le Cinéma d'Asie centrale sovietique. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1991.

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aox
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Re: Central Asian cinema

#2 Post by aox » Fri Feb 11, 2011 5:45 pm

jonah.77 wrote:"Red Westerns" or "Easterns"
This interests me to no end. If you have any suggestions of titles and how to pursue them, I would appreciate it.

I had a very eccentric high school teacher in high school in the 1990s who taught European and Soviet history. He mentioned that the stories of Russians conquering the east/Siberia are remarkably similar to stories of the American west in the 19th century. I didn't ask at the time, but his comment has stuck with me through the years. Considering that the "Rus" people came about in the 10th century, and there had to be people on the eastern frontier throughout the past 3000 years, I have never really understood what century he was talking about; thus, I have never been able to research or find literature to explore his anecdote. I don't know much about pre-1917 Russia, and even less pre-1860s.

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knives
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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#3 Post by knives » Fri Feb 11, 2011 7:46 pm

They might not be eastern enough to count, but First Run released a collection of(what I hear to be)entertaining DEFA westerns a year or so back. Here's a link.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#4 Post by Perkins Cobb » Sat Feb 12, 2011 5:24 am

The Walter Reade in New York has a series of Soviet action films on right now, also curated by Alla Verlotsky of Seagull. Most of them seem to fit the description of "Red westerns."

Two of the seven films are by Ali Khamraev, so the programs seem linked, but I'm puzzled as to why New York and Chicago are getting different fare. I think I'd swap you all of my non-Khamraev Soviet action films for a look at White, White Storks or even that oddity with Arielle Dombasle.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#5 Post by zedz » Sun Feb 13, 2011 4:44 pm

jonah.77 wrote:Other news is that the documentaries of Kazakhstan-based director Sergey Dvortsevoy will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Mark Rance at Watchmaker Films some time this year.
Fantastic news! I'm particularly keen to see Bread Day and In the Dark again. So glad these will be coming out on BluRay and from Watchmaker, who seem to be the very definition of a safe pair of hands.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#6 Post by MichaelB » Sun Feb 13, 2011 5:03 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed The Seventh Bullet, the only Ali Khamraev film that I've seen.

I saw it at least a decade ago, so my memory may be hazy, but I remember being struck by the way it fused rip-roaring action (there really wasn't a dull moment) with a surprisingly balanced discussion of the virtues of Marx over Islam - the basic scenario involves a Red Army captain trying to find out why his men have deserted, and then trying to persuade them to embrace the USSR's notion of the One True Religion.

It was clearly hugely influenced by spaghetti westerns, which I understand were very successful in the USSR (presumably because they could be interpreted, and therefore approved, as Marxist reinterpretations of US myths) - I seem to remember the score was blatantly cod-Morricone.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#7 Post by whaleallright » Tue Feb 15, 2011 6:31 am

I managed to catch two of the Khamraev films at the Film Center in Chicago. Chasing Birds (1975) evidently one of his official masterpieces, and a film whose setting and story bear a striking resemblance to Andrei Rublev, impressed me much less than the earlier (and quite obscure) White, White Storks (1966), a melodrama set in a small Uzbek village. Neither film was exactly subtle, but the earlier one had consistently striking compositions and a strong feel for antinomy. It would have been easy to only make the audience sympathize with the couple whose love is blocked by social convention, but we also are gradually made to feel for other characters for whom the flaunting of convention represents a threat to their dignity and way of life. The film--both its handsome widescreen B&W images and its unhurried portrait of small-town life in the Soviet boondocks--reminded me of contemporaneous films like Vasili Shukshin's There Was a Lad/Zhivyot takoy paren. Khamraev shows a somewhat original camera style here, with a reliance on small camera movements (a pan here, a tilt there) to delicately reveal different elements of an often cramped mise-en-scène. I wish White, White Storks would come to DVD, but I wouldn't hold your breath...

Chasing Birds was often what critics call "sumptuous" (saturated colors, allegorical landscapes), and the harsh story drew me in, but it also reminded me of the pitfalls of having a "poetic" mode as an officially-sanctioned style. The film had much of the symbolic heaviness of Tarkovsky's work (it even seemed to quote him at times, as with an extended shot of weeds roiling in a stream) without enough of the redeeming oddness or boldness of form.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#8 Post by Camera Obscura » Sun Apr 17, 2011 7:56 pm

I totally missed this topic, bit of a belated response.

Caught the Khamrayev Uzbek Western The Seventh Bullet (1974), a couple of months back (in the presence of the director) at The Red Western Program at IFF Rotterdam. Never seen a Soviet Western and was (perhaps misguidedly) expecting some technically accomplished grand soviet film making, but came out a little disappointed in that department. Reasonably large production with some stunning Central Asian vistas, lots of extras and the Marx vs Islam re-interpretation of Western myths in a specific Uzbek setting (with an all-Uzbek cast) was an interesting one, but don't go looking for subtleties. Also, a very broad sense of humour (Terence Hill and Bud Spencer probably made their way into Soviet territories as well at this point) and the action sequences weren't particularly well done. Rather clumsily staged and choreographed, bit messy actually. And I don't mean the Corbucci kind of aesthetic.
But perhaps I'm too harsh and I must admit, I had to focus on the action at times, since parts of the story went a little over my head (the subtitling seemed akward and separately projected on screen and hard to read at times).

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#9 Post by ReynoldsEF » Thu Dec 08, 2011 12:47 am

I had the good fortune of seeing three of Khamraev's films (White, White Storks, Triptych and I Remember You) as part of the National Gallery of Art's "Uzbek Triptych": http://www.nga.gov/programs/film/khamraevtriptych.shtm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; (Their descriptions are far better than mine)

While I enjoyed White, White Storks, I have to say for me it was a toss up between Triptych and I Remember You. Both were stunning, wonderful films. Part of it was Khamraev's use of color (which obviously was missing from White White Storks, although the black and white cinematography was still very beautiful). All of the films had to do with men failing women (perhaps a subtle commentary on the State failing the people) and also dealt with the theme of rebellious women in some way. There was also the interesting juxtaposition of Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity coexisting in an officially atheist USSR. I Remember You was extremely evocative and had me in tears at several points. My only point of comparison is Tarkovsky, but whether that has to do with actual affinities between the two filmmakers or with my own ignorance of Soviet cinema I am not sure. I cannot comment on any of his action films (or so called "Red Westerns") as I have not seen them.

All in all, I loved the films and would jump at the chance to get them on DVD. I must also note that Khamraev's wife, Gulya Tashbayeva, who was in both Triptych and I Remember You, is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#10 Post by whaleallright » Thu Dec 08, 2011 10:50 am

Thanks for those reviews!

A while ago I wrote of White, White Storks: "It would have been easy to only make the audience sympathize with the couple whose love is blocked by social convention, but we also are gradually made to feel for other characters for whom the flaunting of convention represents a threat to their dignity and way of life."

I realize this is a major theme in Central Asian cinema of the Soviet period -- the clash between modern/Western/Soviet values and the traditional (mostly Islamic) values of the Central Asian societies. Often it's a local (Uzbek, Kazakh, what have you) protagonist who, because of the war or education, has gone off and discovered the world, and brings back both his/her experiences and education to his/her home town.

The most powerful treatment of this is Andrei Konchalovsky's The First Teacher, which takes place in/was shot in Kazakhstan. As in Khamraev's White Storks, one of the main "modernist" values that is to clash with traditional values is the liberation of women. Arguably, The First Teacher is more heavy-handed, in part because the conflict of values is much more polarized. But it's also incredibly well-observed and beautifully shaped as a narrative. Konchalovsky makes sure to note that the Kazakh characters are themselves conflicted over the values of education and women's liberation, and he makes us feel the threat that modernization poses in terms of the erosion of a way of life. On the other hand, he makes into villains a group of kulaks, whose tyrannical power over the local peasants (including brute force, bride-napping, etc.) is seen as closely tied up in that way of life. So liberation from old values is also a breaking of chains. In other words, it's a typical Soviet film in terms of the ideology it ultimately espouses, even if it is unusually subtle and convincing in the way it does so. In fact it's one of the most impressive Soviet films I've seen.

All this probably has to do with the fact that these films were both "national" films (with protagonists of Central Asian origin, observation of local folkways and customs, etc.) and Soviet films (in their overall lessons about modernization and ideology). The "ethnic" protagonists who have nonetheless seen the world thus serve as plausible identification figures for both national and Soviet audiences.

The copies of both White Storks and The First Teacher I've seen have dubbed Russian dialogue for nearly all speakers, something that slightly obscures the theme of clashing cultures and demands a bit of suspended disbelief on the part of the audience. I wonder -- were these films also prepared in versions using the local languages?

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#11 Post by D_B » Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:28 am

I saw "The Fall of Otar" by Kazakhi (sp?) director Ardak Amirkulov some years back and it is an amazing film - a historical epic on a not-huge budget.

While I didn't know what was going on half the time (Amirkulov seemed to be a little more beholden to Tarkovsky's Andre Rubelov than he should have been), it was still an amazing evocation of a time and place, with the terrifying Genghis Khan coming through with his scorched-earth tactics and leveling the central asian city of Otar.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#12 Post by whaleallright » Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:23 am

I had meant to post a response relating my thoughts about The Fall of Otrar, but I guess I never got around to it. I was very impressed by it. What was most interesting to me is how the film quickly accustoms you to a time and place with a very different system of morality than our own. It's not that the characters are amoral--it's just that the relative importance placed on human life, on vengeance, on martyrdom, on loyalty, etc. is so very different from most (I would say all, but I'll be more modest in my claim) cultures today. Not long into the film, this alternative system begins to make perfect sense and the motivations of the characters are immediately clarified and underlined. In part because it enlists your tacit acceptance of this alternative morality, it's the sort of film that I might describe as "unpleasant" were the experience of watching it not so totally engrossing and weirdly enriching. I can imagine other spectators being more resistant to the film's pervasive violence (onscreen violence but also the ever-present threat of violence, as well as the bitter memory of violence).

It's amazing that a film of this scope and assurance was completed under the circumstances, but still sad that nothing Amirkulov has done since has received even a fraction of the attention this film got (which is not really saying all that much, since this remains a cult film at best).
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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#13 Post by L.A. » Tue Aug 20, 2013 6:31 am

Is The Fall of Otar possibly available on DVD and with English subtitles?

How about Kyrgyzstan, anyone seen any films from the country? The only Kyrgyz film I'm aware of is the Ostern (or Eastern) The Red Poppies of Issyk-Kul (1972) which of course interests me. I'm told Bolotbek Shamshiev is a fascinating director.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#14 Post by whaleallright » Sat Nov 02, 2013 4:35 pm

Hi there, some t*rrent sites have Fall of Otrar with subtitles, but the image quality is invariably poor.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#15 Post by jsteffe » Sun Nov 03, 2013 12:38 am

There is a new book out on Central Asian cinema: Cinema in Central Asia: Rewriting Cultural Histories, edited by Michael Rouland, Gulnara Abikeyeva, and Birgit Beumers. Amazon lists a release date of December 18, though it is already out in the U.K.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#16 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Mon Nov 04, 2013 1:41 pm

The Kazakh film 'Revenge' is soon to be released as part of the World Cinema Foundation vol.1, along with Dry Summer (Turkey) and Trances (Morocco). Our own MichaelB reviews it on the Moviemail site.

http://www.moviemail.com/film/dvd+blu-r ... olume-One/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#17 Post by perkypat » Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:29 pm

Saw The Wild East (Rachid Nugmanov 1993) at the Busan Film Festival.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106723/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Really enjoyed it, sort of part Seven Samurai, part Mad Max

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#18 Post by whaleallright » Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:10 am

Does anyone have any idea what Sergei Dvortsevoy is up to? It has been eight years since Tulpan. Another feature of his was supposedly "in production" back in 2009–10, but I have heard nothing since.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#19 Post by warren oates » Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:12 am

I'm still waiting to see Bread Day.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#20 Post by whaleallright » Thu Nov 30, 2017 6:15 pm

n/a
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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#21 Post by whaleallright » Thu Nov 30, 2017 6:29 pm

I watched a faded, reddening but not horrible copy of Tolomush Okeyev's The Ferocious One (Лютый) a few weeks ago. This was one of those Soviet-era Central Asian productions that seems to have been intended in part for overseas festival play, in part because of its seriousness and scale of ambition. Like a number of the other major Central Asian features of the 1960s and 1970s, it was cowritten by Andrey Konchalovskiy (then of course billed by his full name, Andrey Mikhalkov-Konchalovskiy). It's a partial exception to the observation I made a while ago that so many Central Asian films of this era deal, more sympathetically than you might expect, with the conflict between traditional and modern ideologies. In this case it's mostly because it's set in a period before the Bolshevik Revolution (certainly before that revolution reached Kyrgyzstan). The world it depicts is suffused with violence and the preying of the powerful upon the powerless. The impression one gets is that under a semi-feudal system of serfs and lords, few can escape the imperative to be cruel.

I've seen the film described as "totally non-political," and while that's obviously not true, it's certainly not the (very brilliant) propaganda piece that is Konchalovsky's The First Teacher. But I'm not sure of the precise allegorical meaning (if indeed an allegory was intended, as they so often were in films of this period and place) of the main plot, of the boy trying to raise a wolf cub—the "fierce one" of the title—as if it were a dog. The seemingly naturally-predetermined resolution (how can a wolf be anything but a wolf?) would seem to mesh uncomfortably with the idea that human relations are largely determined by a particular social/political situation.

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Re: Central Asian Cinema

#22 Post by htshell » Mon Jan 01, 2018 7:18 pm

Hello! I haven’t posted on this board for several years but wanted to share that I’ve programmed a UK retrospective of several of Ali Khamraev’s films. It’s shown in the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival (which I program for) last September and now will be happening in London at Close-Up Film Centre this week (January 3-5). I Remember You (1985), The Bodyguard (1979) and Man Follows Birds (1975) will be shown from Khamraev’s own prints.

http://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/film_p ... -khamraev/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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