The environment is the bleak, barren and cold mountains of rural Uzbekistan. The house is very old, walls in desperate need of a lick of paint, however spacious and clean. It is equipped with the bare essentials required for subsistence, including a precarious refrigerator and jurassic tube television. Outside is a wood-fired cooking pot used to boil and dye wool, an ancient car covered in dust and barely functional. A man (Abdurakhmon Yusufaliev) and his wife (Roza Piyazova), both around 80 years of age, are the lone inhabitants of this self-contained yet entirely satisfactory environment. There is not one little thing that they would change.
The husband is a cranky old man, whose angry face occasionally breaks into cheeky and irresistible smile. He is both rough and endearing. The wife is calm, serious and pragmatic. They neatly complement each other, and require little more than each other’s company. The idyllic balance is disturbed by the occasional visit of their well-meaning son Botir (Nasrullo Nurov) and his inconvenient gifts. They include a digital flat screen television (analogue signal is about to be switched off), a sparkling new fridge and a bank card. It takes them a good month before they learn how to operate the new television, and they never get used to the humming sound of the new fridge. To make things worse, they are terrified at the prospect of using the bank card at the local ATM. “Couldn’t you have just given us money instead?”, the mother bemoans. They have another son who works far away and never visits. They are informed that he wishes to knock their perfect house down. This sheer disregard and insensibility recalls the selfish children of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, a masterpiece of generational disconnect.
This is a movie about finding beauty and satisfaction in the most trivial and mundane events, and not dissimilar to Wim Wenders’s Perfect Days, which premiered earlier this year in Cannes (a movie about a toilet cleaner entirely happy about his thankless routine). The woman poignantly notes: “we lived, no matter what we did”. A cup of coffee. A cigarette. A gentle laughter. The routine of the elderly couple consists of milking the cows, collecting water from the local stream, and weaving the wool into colourful carpets, assisted by a large handloom outdoors. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Sunday are more or less the same day. They unwind by lying next to each other in bed or underneath the starry sky, on top of blankets and sheets presumably woven with their own hands. The camerawork is almost entirely static, aligned with the film’s slow and meditative pace. We are invited to spend nearly 100 minutes of our time in the company of two people in the twilight of their lives. In order to do so we must adapt to their quiet and languid ways. There is no rush to get anywhere.
Despite the slow pace, Sunday is dotted with subtle moments of comic relief, such as the man’s insistence in asking visitors for a match for no clear purpose, or the couple’s sense of helplessness in front of the modern 4k television with strange instructions written on the screen. Director Shokir Kholikov, who also penned the film script, does not pity his characters, This is not a gloomy movie about the pains of old age. This is a movie about lifelong devotion and love. Sentiments that refuse to die and are firmly etched upon each object and each wall of this rural residence.
Sunday shows in the Official Competition of the 3rd Red Sea International Film Festival. It premiered earlier this year at the Shanghai International Film Festival. It would be nice to see it beyond the festival circuit, in cinemas or streaming.