Kardiogramma, 1995

In the rural Soviet-era Kazakh village of Bazarbaï in the Kzylordinskye district, a reticent and impassive boy named Jasulan (Jasulan Asauov) watches his father ride away on horseback into the arid frontier before sneaking into the utility shed, activating the house portable generator, and returning to the living room – past the silent, disapproving gaze of his doting mother in the kitchen – to watch the faint, occasionally distorted black and white image of a Russian language television broadcast. Jasulan’s self-indulgent diversion, however, inevitably proves brief as the power abruptly goes out, having been disconnected by his pragmatic father who has unexpectedly returned home to the sound of the noisy, sputtering engine, and dismissively (and amusingly) scolds the boy for wasting scarce fuel “to see naked women”. Seemingly plagued with symptoms of chronic inertia (or rather, more appropriately, maternally enabled idleness) – that, as his anxious mother would later surmise, had perhaps evolved from an earlier, under-attended bout of tonsillitis leading to heart disease – Jasulan is accompanied by his mother on a trip to the city of Alma Ata for medical attention where a staff physician obligingly concurs with her overprotective diagnosis, rationalizing that “Kazakh children often have heart disease because we love them too much”. Left alone for a month-long period of recuperation in a children’s convalescent facility, the sheltered and infinitely curious Jasulan soon finds himself overwhelmingly immersed in the strange culture of Russian-speaking children, competitive team sports, bullying adolescents, and attractive staff nurses – in particular, a compassionate resident nurse named Gula (Gulnara Dusmatova) – and is invariably marked by the seemingly mundane, yet character-building and illuminating experience.

Darezhan Omirbaev creates an elegantly distilled, understatedly humorous, and indelibly poetic portrait of estrangement, awakening, maturation, and self-discovery in Kardiogramma. Juxtaposing the barren and austere, yet intimate and nurturing environment of the remote peasant village with the populous and always bustling, yet alienating and oppressively institutionalized milieu of the state-run treatment facility, the film establishes the underlying paradox between geographic isolation and communal (and familial) intimacy, densely populated environments and suppressive, captive isolation. By illustrating fostered group activities and imposed interactions that invariably degenerate into social stratification, aggressive and often violent (although, at times, unintentionally hilarious) personal competition, cruel pranks, and arbitrary exclusion, Omirbaev captures the inherent myth in the cultivation of cultural dissociation towards implicit conformity as a means to achieving camaraderie and (an albeit fragile) unity. In the end, disillusioned by the emotional desolation of impersonal institution, Jasulan perpetrates a bittersweet, silent revolt against his tantalizing, but bewildering brave new world – once again, guided by his fickle heart – searching for a way to return to a humble paradise lost.

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