Nuri Bilge Ceylan meets Diao Yi’nan in the lawless Kazakh steppes in this brilliant slow-burning investigative procedural about systemic corruption and chronic violence, directed by one of Central Asian cinema’s most distinctive voices.
Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov
2019 | Kazakhstan | Drama | 130 mins | 2.35:1 | Kazakh
NC16 (passed clean) for violence and coarse language
Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Dinara Baktybaeva, Teoman Khos
Plot: A boy is murdered in Kazakh village. Detective Bekzat wants to wrap up the investigation quickly: after all, the perpetrator has already been found by local police officers. But when a journalist arrives from the city, everything falls to pieces.
Awards: Official Selection (Busan)
International Sales: Arizona Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Corruption, Truth
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: Screener – Perspectives Film Festival 2020
If you love slow-burning investigative procedurals, as I do, you will find this unmissable.
A Dark, Dark Man is already Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s seventh feature (he turns 38 this year), yet he shows no signs of slowing down with two more films already completed. It is a brilliant work and deserves more exposure in the festival circuits and arthouse cinemas around the world.
I would describe it as Nuri Bilge Ceylan meets Diao Yi’nan in the lawless Kazakh steppes; in particular, it shares a similar ‘spirit’ with the former’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and the latter’s Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014).
It begins with a dead body as a detective plants evidence that would incriminate a local mentally-challenged man. There is no investigation to be had with the suspect already pre-determined.
This is the natural order of things in this part of the world until a female journalist unexpectedly drops by hoping to dig up a sensational story of systemic corruption.
Yerzhanov’s direction is extraordinary as he delivers one beautifully-controlled shot after another, sometimes complemented by ‘80s-style synths that Cliff Martinez could have composed for a Nicolas Winding Refn picture.
Slow, but always riveting, A Dark, Dark Man is a pensive take on a bleak masculine world where chronic violence is the only painful truth, particularly when one becomes the recipient of it.
The irony is razor-sharp, and unsurprisingly so, as this is also a movie where characters do hilarious things and tell hilarious jokes.
One might see a bit of the Old West in Yerzhanov’s film, but make no mistake, this is Central Asian arthouse cinema at its finest, directed by one of the region’s most distinctive voices.