Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I'll finish the series I've been writing on East European films of the 1960s with another selection from the USSR. though again, not a European film, but one made in Kyrgyzstan, again far to the east of Europe, in the mountainous republic bordering on China. The actors and writer/narrator are Kyrgyz but the directors are Russians. There are interesting Russian films made during the period that I could have chosen to write about, but these are relatively well known and have their audience. I wanted to write about Dzhamiliya because it's still obscure and worth watching.

It's also a war movie, set at the time of the second world war, and it's notable for treating the war so lightly. Granted, the front is a very long way off, but the difference between it and other war films of the period is startling. There's none of the grim horror that typifies other Russian war films. "Come and See", "The Ascent", and "Ivan's Childhood" are typically harrowing, and by the way are all available for downloading via bittorrent. Even compared with other war-time romance films such as "Ballad of a Soldier", Dzhamiliya stands out. We're told, for example, in the first minutes of The Ballad of a Soldier that Alyosha doesn't make it through the war and dies while liberating Europe. Obviously this casts a pall of doom over the film. In Dzhamiliya, we don't get any taste of the horror and sacrifice of the war. Many of the young male characters in the film are wounded and disabled, but Dzhamiliya, played by Natalya Arinbasarova, mocks their disability and questions their manhood.

The story of Dzhamiliya is told by Seit, the young brother of her husband, charged by his family to keep an eye on her and protect her from suitors while he is at the front. He's just at the age when becoming sexually aware and she inspires his first artistic endeavors. Seit's character, much older and now a successful artist, is also the film's narrator, played by Chingiz Aitmatov, the writer of the screenplay and author of the original novel. Incidentally, later Aitmatov would become a diplomat representing the post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan in Europe.

It's not an artistically innovative or politically daring film. It borrows liberally techniques used in Western films like, rarely seen these days, freeze frames and solarization. It borrows liberally from Soviet tractor operas as well. There are some very nice montages of Kyrgyz poetry, song and landscape that in themselves should make the film worthwhile. The story is conventional, but the narrator, giving an adult voice to a child who struggles to understand the confusing and sad world of adults, adds a dimension of lost innocence, and his discovery of his place in a world of wonder raises the film a notch or two above the conventional love story.

Dzhamiliya is available at the Pirate Bay for downloading.

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