Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 4:18 pm 
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Eastern inertia

This film from Kazakhstan (in a French coproduction with a brief token scene in Paris) is a reworking of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in 88 long and inexplicable minutes.

When she takes the train from the capital, Astana, to the southern city of Almaty to help her brother with marital problems, Chouga (the serene, handsome-looking Ainour Touganhaeva), married to a much older man, catches the eye of Ablai (Aidos Sagatov), a successful younger man who drives a big BMW. The younger woman he was dating had another suitor, an austere, bespectacled photography student who appears as the film opens reading the Arabic love poetry of Majnoun Layla aloud to himself. He is a flop in person, but the girl later marries him, after recovering from a suicide attempt when Ablai dumps her. When Chouga goes home again, though she has very much missed her young son (and he her), she realizes she is fed up with that life, and she runs off with Ablai. But Ablai, whose unceremonious dropping of the less impressive girlfriend showed a callous side to begin with, also has some habits Chouga doesn't seem to tolerate very well. First there's his weakness for hanging out in big sex bars. In a later scene she's at home sitting staring in the bedroom while he's in the living room playing cards with crude companions. His former girlfriend's friends rough him up, but his friends get their revenge and give him a video to depict it--a sign of further unsavoriness in the man's lifestyle. Chouga goes off to the train station for the Tolstoyan finale. Everybody else is fine.

The chief interest of this leaden reworking of the great Russian novel, which is marked by very little interaction between any of the characters, may be simply its setting, the exotic part European, part Asian people and the newly-wealthy Kazakhstan where there are bright lights, big cars, flat-screen TV's, nicely appointed apartments, and women like Chouga seem to have a whole wardrobe full of fur coats. This is obviously a country that's newly rich. In some ways one might be reminded of the Korea of Hong Sang-Soo, but this world has none of the wit and ingenuity of Hong's treatment of relationship. The scenes are well-lighted for the most part. One or two are quite beautiful.

Otherwise, the pace is slow, the action is lifeless, and the director tends to rely on tableaux rather than movement. This is a device that might be effective once or twice. But when there turn out to be hardly any scenes resolved through dialogue, you begin to wonder what is going on. This is more a curiosity than a success even worthy of festival viewing. It adds nothing discernible to our understanding of the Anna Karenina theme. One can understand the FSLC festival committee's desire to branch out to a new filmmaking region, but this won't stand as a wise choice unless Omirbaev comes up with something much better next time.

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