QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Kubat Alyevich (Marat Alyshpaev) is a retired writer and teacher living on his own in a comfortable apartment in town, presumably purchased with his life earnings. He has previously won the biggest literary awards in the country, and his name is extremely well-known amongst young and old Kyrgyzstanisa alike. He does not have any children, and his only relatives in town are his nephew Tilek (Bakyt Mukul), his wife and children.
Kubat’s favourite student is a middle-aged man called Sapar. He hopes that the younger man will give continuity to his writing work after Kubat dies. He becomes beset with woe upon finding out that his literary heir apparent is afflicted with a very serious disease that will kill him unless he raises U$40,000 for a surgery in Germany. Kubat promptly sells his flat in order to help his ailing student. He then moves into a retirement home, shocking a nation that associates such institutions with loneliness and despondency. He explains to a journalist: “it was my decision to move in here”
Tilek is a fallible relative. On one hand, he cares about his uncle. On the other hand, he takes the money intended to help Sapar in order to settle his mounting debt issue, and it’s unclear whether he will pay him back. Kubat’s body begins to give in to the years and successive deceptions. He has one final wish: he wants to return to the village where he grew and see the yurt in which his nomadic parents lived and died.
The journey in The Road to Eden is very slow and laborious, much like an old car driving uphill. Alyshpaev delivers a stunning performance. His character painfully internalises his emotions, while conveying a palpable sense of stoicism. He is a very kind a selfless human being trying to help those around him, and also a sensitive artist fighting in order to preserve his legacy. His quiet eyes are bursting with sadness. The women in this film are portrayed as selfish and manipulative: both Tilek’s wife and and Tilek’s lover are more concerned with their comfort and possessions than with the visibly vulnerable Kubat.
This earnest little movie is a tribute to the creative spirit, and the artist’s urge to give their work a new lease of life beyond their very own impermanence. Writers are survived by their families, by their belongings and first and foremost by their books. Cinema is also celebrated in the story, with a still of the iconic kiss sequence of Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) prominently displayed in Kubat’s lounge, and various film classics showing on television.
The titular road comes to fruition in the final quarter of this two-hour movie, and the wait pays off entirely. The black and white images of rural Kyrgyzstan are nothing short of spectacular. A sequence of the nomadic people being observed from the distance by a Kubat envious of their non-materialistic lifestyle is truly breathtaking. Plus there’s a very vivid and cathartic change tone at the very end of the story, when past and future inevitably meet and the story comes full circle. The symbolism of the very last sequence is heart-rending.
The Road to Eden has just premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival as part of the Official Competition. It was co-produced by Elnura Osmonalieva.