Saratan, 2005

Inviting favorable comparison to Serik Aprimov’s Glastnost-era muted comedy The Last Stop (a film that ushered the Kazakh new wave), Kyrgyzstan filmmaker Ernest Abdyshaparov spins his own charming, infectious, and delightful pastoral tale on the doldrums of rural life in post Soviet-era central Asian republics in Saratan. Introducing an eclectic cast of characters – a town mayor who has perfected the art of time-wasting activities to keep up the inflated appearance of official importance (a marginal and largely titular bureaucratic position so completely dissociated from the affairs of the national government that, as his wife points out, he doesn’t even attract bribery attempts), a once-irresponsible young man turned resident local mullah with a penchant for oversleeping through the prescribed hour for morning prayers, a lothario police officer who seems to make as many visits to wives left behind by husbands going off to work than to patrolling and investigating crime sites, a Jehovah’s witness who has come upon the rural hamlet in search of potential converts, a reactionary who continues to try to instigate the inert population into social revolution and a return to the glory days of heavy-handed Soviet socialism, a little girl who keeps a watchful eye on her unemployed, hard-drinking father, and even a local village idiot who envisions himself as a traffic officer for the town’s busiest intersection: the service window of the grocery stand – the town is soon set abuzz by the latest mystery of a sheep thief operating in the dead of night and the news that the richest man in town has purchased a stock of diesel fuel for speculative investment. Ending on an affirming note of survival, community, and humble hope, Saratan strikes the right balance of whimsical, self-effacing humor and incisive human comedy.

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