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Director - Adilkhan Yerzhanov - 2020

"Dirty gem"
A young woman fights off corruption and tradition in order to "save" her younger sister from an arranged marriage - Kazakh movie premieres at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Ulbolsyn (Assel Sadvakassova) lives in a big city and enjoys a fairly independent life. On day, she visits her village in Karatas, a rural village somewhere in the vastness of Kazakhstan. She wishes to take her younger sister Azhar away so that she too may enjoy a more promising lifestyle. Suddenly, Azhar is kidnapped right in front of the eyes of our protagonist.

Ulbolsyn sets off on a mission to “free” her sister. The people she encounters on her quest indeed behave like Borat characters: they are profoundly deceitful and corrupt. In a way, they are also naive, blind followers of set of unwritten social rules. The banality of tradition. Azhar herself is no exception. She does not wish to be “rescued”. She is content with the arranged marriage, in a society where women are denied higher education and domestic abuse is a token of affection.

Azhar’s noble “saviour” understands that she is unlikely to succeed on her own. So she turns to the police, but they refuse point-blank to assist the brave young lady. That’s because her future brother-in-law is a very “respectable” healer called Urgan. He can cure just about any illness or affliction with touch the touch of his hands. Next Ulbolsyn resorts to a Swat team, but they too fail to rescue Azhar. So she contacts an influential journalist, but there’s little he can do. Nothing works. But Ulbolsyn isn’t giving up that easily, and she is prepared to take very Draconian measures.

This is a movie about the futility of change. Why thrust “freedom” upon those who do not want it? Azhar is perfectly happy to be married off in exchange of a dowry. She does not mind her husband’s old age, or his other wives. In fact these women help her to settle into her new home. Urgan is a quiet and demure man with sincere eyes. He does not perceive himself as a predator. His demeanour is never threatening, even at the movie’s most decisive moment at the very end. In a way, Ulbolsyn is tilting at windmills.

This quietly funny and absurd drama is just one of the three films that 38-year-old Adilkhan Yerzhanov directed this year. The highly prolific young man already has 13 features under his belt, and is a recognisable name in prestigious festivals across the globe, including Venice. The subtle comic elements and the wacky political commentary of Yerzhanov’s movies have conquered the hearts of fans in many countries. I look forward to watching more of his films.

Ulbolsyn has just premiered at the 24th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which DMovies is following live in loco. It is part of the event’s Official Competition.

"Dirty gem"

By Victor Fraga - 21-11-2020

By Victor Fraga - 21-11-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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