July, 1988

Darezhan Omirbaev’s penchant for spare, elliptical narrative, muted figures, and disembodied framing (most notably, of hands and feet) have often been (favorably) compared to the rigorous aesthetic of Robert Bresson. However, in imposing such a somber – and inescapably cerebral – analogy, there is also a propensity to overlook the wry, self-effacing humor and irony of situation that pervade his films: a lyricism that equally captures the human comedy in all its contradictions and nobility from the margins of Soviet society. This sense of the quotidian as a continuum of human experience, elegantly rendered in Omirbaev’s recent film, The Road through Amir’s recurring daydream of a mother milking a cow and her intrusive child (who, in turn, looks remarkably like Amir’s own son) in rural Kazakhstan (an image that subsequently proves to be a catalytic historical memory from his childhood when man landed on the moon), can also be seen from the outset of Omirbaev’s cinema through his incorporation of a decidedly Buñuelian sequence in the short film, July of a young boy who, while on the lookout for guards near the foothills of a kolkhoz commissary, curiously finds himself wandering into a recital hall where the performance of a young pianist is punctuated by the appearance of a horseman on the stage. Part pastoral observation on the pervasiveness of underdevelopment and the austerity of life in the rural villages of Soviet-era collective farms (and in particular, at the outlying frontiers of the Soviet Central Asia), and part autofiction on a pair of restless boys whose penchant for escapist (mis)adventures reveal a nascent, if displaced, creative sensibility, July establishes the aesthetic framework that would come to define Omirbaev’s cinema: the overture of first love depicted through seemingly innocent – yet deliberate – passing touches (the bus encounter in Kaïrat, the movie house flirtation in July); the frustration of isolation inherent in a rural childhood manifested through acts of mischief (the opening sequence of Kaïrat, the courtyard fight of Kardiogramma), the subconscious act of self-reflection illustrated through literal self-reflection through the reflected image of a rear view mirror (Marat’s drive home from the hospital in Killer, Amir’s extended road trip to visit his ailing mother in The Road). Inevitably, what proves to be the most remarkable – and irresistible – aspect of Omirbaev’s deceptively simple coming of age film is its ability to capture the interpenetration between reality and fiction interpenetrate with such seemingly effortless, uninhibited intimacy – a wide eyed innocence that hovers in the ephemeral – ever teetering between solemnity and absurdity, boredom and roguishness, anxiety and imagination.

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